Dining Review: Bagels and beyond at East City

The California  is loaded with  fresh vegetables such as  avocado, cucumber, sprouts, tomatoes and lettuce on whole-grain bread.

Photo by Ben Fant // Buy this photo

The California is loaded with fresh vegetables such as avocado, cucumber, sprouts, tomatoes and lettuce on whole-grain bread.

City East Bagel and Grille changed its name (from Bagel Company of Memphis), beefed up its menu and added dinner five nights a week.

Let's review the old and new.

The breakfast selection extends beyond bagels to a huge selection of omelets, traditional items, healthy choices, "eggel" sandwiches and skillet meals, the latter of which are the best of the bunch but have a misleading name as there is nary a skillet in sight.

The California  is loaded with  fresh vegetables such as  avocado, cucumber, sprouts, tomatoes and lettuce on whole-grain bread.

Photo by Ben Fant

The California is loaded with fresh vegetables such as avocado, cucumber, sprouts, tomatoes and lettuce on whole-grain bread.

City East Bagel and Grille is the new name of the former Bagel Company of Memphis on Poplar.

Photo by Ben Fant

City East Bagel and Grille is the new name of the former Bagel Company of Memphis on Poplar.

The bagels at City East come in many varieties, have a  light shell on the outside and a soft but chewy  interior.

Photo by Ben Fant

The bagels at City East come in many varieties, have a light shell on the outside and a soft but chewy interior.

These are instead served in oval casserole dishes, overfilled with your choice of meat and vegetables and topped with scrambled eggs and cheese. They're

essentially deconstructed omelets.

We tried the farmer's skillet, which contained sausage; neither corned beef, chicken nor pastrami appealed to us, though bacon, ham and the vegetarian option seemed fine (it appears we lean toward the pig).

The scrambled eggs were very good, both light and tender, and the sausage was cooked so that there were a few crisp edges here and there. The vegetables -- potatoes, mushrooms, green peppers and onion -- were better in the skillet than in the omelet or the burrito, as they weren't watery.

The ham and cheese omelet would've been an excellent one had the vegetables not been weepy. It was a behemoth made from three eggs, lots of cheese and plenty of ham. The texture was compromised, though, from the wet onions and peppers.

Unfortunately, the burrito fared worse, as the vegetables leaked onto the flour tortilla and made it pasty.

It's a simple enough problem to remedy: Cook the water out. Taking into account that the skillet vegetables were fine, perhaps the omelet and the burrito were made from a batch that wasn't cooked long enough. It was a crowded Sunday morning, and the place was jumping.

The Belgian waffle was good, but looking at the pancakes around us, I was envious. They were big and clearly made to order -- I saw one stack with steam coming from it as it was delivered.

Next time.

Plate lunches are available at lunch, and when asked if the vegetables were fresh and made in house, the server said they were. Yet we were served overcooked green beans, black-eyed peas that were heavily salted, and fried okra that was clearly not hand-battered.

I have nothing against good frozen vegetables, and heaven knows that in the South, we've all seen fresh green beans cooked to mush. But these tasted canned, and I was told they were fresh.

Luckily, there are plenty of sandwiches to choose from at lunch. The club is a hearty version of the standard (in fact, portion sizes are hefty all around). The Brooklyn comes with Russian dressing, lettuce and tomato on hot pastrami and melted provolone. On rye, of course. The Manhattan is similar, but with corned beef instead of pastrami and with the addition of deli mustard.

A nice lagniappe: Lunch customers who are at the shop when it's closing get to take with them as many bagels as they want. Take one; take a dozen. As bagels are made fresh daily and leftovers are made into bagel chips, it's a nice way to show appreciation to diners. (And, yes, they used to donate them to shelters, but rigorous rules and regulations made the process too difficult, I was told.)

I'm glad I'm no bagel snob. I have friends who have bagels shipped to them from New York, and that's great for them, as we all have our culinary indulgences. But City East's bagels are the ones I've been eating for years. And one with everything, toasted and with cream cheese, suits me fine. The exterior is chewy with a light shell, the inside soft enough to chew yet with plenty of characteristic resistance, too.

City East is well-poised for a nice dinner service. The lights are lowered a bit at night, soft jazz is piped in, and it's a pleasant place. The food is both very good, on the one hand, and exasperating, on the other.

First, the portions are huge and few will finish their meal, but folks around here like a crowded plate (and there's nothing wrong with leftovers). A half-chicken. A choice of a three- or four-piece catfish dinner. A 9-ounce cheeseburger and a 12-ounce piece of prime rib. Each entree is served with a large, freshly made salad and an extremely generous side (they just about fill up the casserole dishes from breakfast).

The prime rib was cooked just as requested, a little shy of medium rare, and served with both au jus and horseradish sauce. The chicken came out with a crisp and golden skin, nestled on a huge bed of rice and accompanied by an excellent mixed medley of roasted vegetables that included brussels sprouts, potatoes and various squashes.

The "wild rice," though, tasted like a box mix, with both the tell-tale artificial flavor and yellow color. What a shame, too, as the chicken itself was delicious.

I'm not against a restaurant taking short-cuts. Not every place has to serve everything fresh from the market, after all. But how about trying a non-seasoned wild rice mix instead, and then adding the flavor in the kitchen?

The fried green tomato appetizer, by the way, was very good. The tomatoes were fried to a good crunch and not greasy. And they appeared to be made from fresh tomatoes.

--Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223

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City East Bagel and Grille

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 6698 Poplar.

Telephone: (901) 754-2660.

Hours: 7 a.m.-2 p.m. daily; 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

Reviewer's choices: Farmer's skillet ($7.95); bagels ($1.19 alone; $1.99 with cream cheese); club sandwich ($7.95); fried green tomato appetizer at dinner ($8.95); herb chicken, with reservation about the rice ($15.95).

Alcohol: Beer; bring your own wine for a $3 glass fee.

Star Ratings

Poor: Zero stars

Good: One star

Very Good: Two stars

Excellent: Three stars

Extraordinary: Four stars

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