baked & boiled owner alex pifer photo by mabel suen

Baked & Boiled's New York-style bagels are a great addition to Soulard

There are only so many words for chewy. I looked them up. Coriaceous was one, leathery was another, so was rubbery and so was tough; I liked dry as old boots. "Chewy," my thesaurus seems to suggest, is not a good thing to be.

It's not true. It is true, however, that bagels can be wily. You can't necessarily tell from the outside how they're going to be on the inside. For instance, the plain one you just bought in the dining car of the Texas Eagle (starting in Chicago and pitstopping in St. Louis sometime next month) looked decent enough; feasibly could have passed for one at Shelsky's of Brooklyn. That's what you told yourself, anyway, when hope — in the moment — sprung eternal and you shelled out for that knock-your-block-off puck in the Cafe car.


baked & boiled in soulard // photo by mabel suen


On the beauty continuum, Baked & Boiled, which opened at 1801 S. Ninth St., across from the Soulard Soap Laundromat, in September 2023, is as far from an Amtrak caboose as croquembouche is from Bunny Bread; it's knock-your-socks off lovely here. Spanking white floors and snowy tile walls, sunlight glittering in the windows. I actually drew a breath. And then, once the dazzle wore off, my eyes lensed to the golden mean of this canvas, and swooned again.

How much do I love the display case, circa 1950, left behind by the storefront's former occupant the Sweet Divine? I'll count some ways: I love the bespoke antiquity of the wood and glass, I love the pull-out drawers, and how the bagels — at the start of the day, anyway — are packed like gentlemen's socks at Gimbels. If a rainbow was made of bread, this case would be the end of it.


bagels from baked & boiled // photo by mabel suen


Alex Pifer is the owner here, having worked her way up from Clearwater, Florida, where she grew up, through North Carolina and Ohio to St. Louis. She operated a pop-up bagel business at Wild Olive Provisions for a time. Most recently, she worked at Farmhaus, still does every so often.

The bagels she makes (inspired by Clearwater Bagels, guess where?) are boiled in a salty, malty bath, she says, which results in a chewy buoy not often found in the supermarket.

Aside from Pifer's husband, this is a woman-powered business. And that includes Judith, the stand mixer.

"It's a Bible story," Pifer explained. And while I was going on to learn that Biblical Judith cut off her boyfriend's head, chef and baker Katie Fitzgerald — visible in the kitchen from the counter — was muscling a giant sausage of dough; heaving it, slapping it, knifing it into chunks.

Bagels, by definition, are denser breadstuffs with pleasantly elastic, chewy skins. But personally, I think there's room for puff. I want my bagel to sigh a little when I squeeze in. And there's an allowance (isn't there always?) for some artisanal imperfection — some shagginess. There's that here. A crusty cheddar jalapeno is raggle-taggle with its bubbly crust of cheese, and turned out to have a marked lingering heat. The cinnamon raisin is rugged and glossy, bumped with juicy dried fruit, and pricked on the inside with cinnamon that tastes fresh off the stick. And you won't fail to notice the densely poppyseeded poppyseed which stands out from the pack like Batman at a nursery sing-song.

Baked & Boiled dances on the line between a cozy, homespun operation and an extremely professional enterprise. Minus the giant 20-gallon tilt skillet and wall of boss ovens, I was reminded a little of my grandmother's kitchen — close and warm, moist with steam and nice smells. You can sit, if you want, at one of two stools that front the action. Or you can plop in the window where that sunlight glitters, where it glints off your cup of Kuva coffee and refracts gold through a beautiful and very large jar of honey on the counter.

Pifer recommended the salt bagel with my prosciutto goat cheese sandwich — the day's special when I went. I was wary, but somehow the big flakes are only gently saline. The prosciutto was allowed to bring its own salt to the party, and it got on well with the sweet fig jam that was also there.

All Pifer's bagels are made with 25 percent whole wheat flour and I could certainly pick up a warm, brown wheatiness in this one. If it had been advertised as a bread bun, I'd have loved it, but thinking "bagel," I was left a little wanting.

That day, a chalk sandwich board out front said "Lox Smith." And it's pretty much true. At Baked & Boiled, fish eaters can have their (real) lox, and so can vegans have their variety. Pifer won't dish on her carrot-curing methods, which produce slivers of vegetable that are delicately sweet and the gorgeous color of a persimmon. I didn't mind; the "salmon" was loxy enough for me, however it came about.

So I'm on the fence, and bagels put me there in a big way. What are they supposed to be? Pretty? Shaggy? Chewy and soft? Dense but puffily so? People want different things from bagels, and while density isn't my thing, it might be yours. At Baked & Boiled, like I said, it's a spectrum: A bit of this, a bit of that. Buy them all, I guess?

"Can I buy this?" I said, running my finger longingly down the glassy flank of the shop's great honey pot, realizing instantly the absurdity. I have only so many cups of tea, so many slices of toast left in this life of mine. Sad. Because the honey is even more seductive, not just local from Enough, Missouri, but made — with gratitude and therefore added sweetness? — by rescued bees at Rad Rex Farms. (The answer, BTW, was no.)

I can't remember if there's an actual bell on the door, or if I'm just conjuring one. Because Baked & Boiled is that kind of place — a little shop on a corner across from a soap laundromat with a little tinkle announcing (with increasing frequency as the light comes up) that yet another person is hungry for their breakfast.

This article was originally published by the Riverfront Times.