To Joshua Pollack, happiness is a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.
“I love when people go, ‘Well, you’re the owner, what breakfast sandwich do you eat the most?’” says Pollack, owner of Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen, with two locations in Denver and one — come April-— on the Hill. “And I’m like, ‘I’m sorry I’m not more exciting, but a bacon, egg and cheese, SPK [salt, pepper, ketchup]. That’s it. I eat that all the time.”
It’s a fair question — Rosenberg’s (named after Pollack’s mother) has several enticing bagel sandwich options, from lox varieties to pastrami to Taylor ham, that go along with its menu of deli sandwiches, salads, spreads and sides. And the New Jersey native is used to answering it by now.
In fact, the reason Pollack has to answer the question and, more broadly, educate folks about offering foods typical of Jewish and East Coast delis, bodegas and bagel shops is the same reason Rosenberg’s and Pollack’s other East Coast-style restaurants — Lou’s Italian Specialties, Famous Original J’s Pizza and Sherry’s Soda Shoppe — even exist.
Pollack came to Colorado via CU Boulder over 10 years ago, and found that none of the foods he grew up with — bagels, subs, pizza — were being made the way they were back home. The first time he went to a bagel shop here, he says, “I was like, ‘Yeah, let me get a bacon, egg and cheese on an everything bagel and they were like, ‘What’s an everything bagel?’ I was like, ‘What? That one right there.’ They’re like, ‘That’s Italian.’”
If you live in Boulder County and are from New Jersey (as I am) or thereabouts, you’re chuckling right now because you’ve had this conversation. But you, as well as Pollack, know it’s more than just a semantic difference. There is “passion and tradition” that goes into producing deli sandwiches, bagels, pizza and other foods abundant in the Northeast that have historically been undervalued out West.
For example, Pollack says, “This’ll be on a shirt one day: ‘Toasting is OK in the privacy of your own home.’ If a bagel’s not fresh, aka more than three hours out of the oven, that’s when it becomes acceptable to toast a bagel. But everyone in the world needs to try a hot and fresh bagel. I try to reprogram everybody.”
Or take lox. You go into a chain bagel shop here and you order “lox.” Not so back East, and not so at Rosenberg’s. “Lox means salmon. We have many types,” Pollack says — gravlax (cured with salt, sugar and dill), Scottish (cold-) smoked salmon, kippered (hot-smoked) salmon and other variations, with other fish, all cured, smoked or otherwise prepared in-house.
“We’re trying to get people excited about the depth we go into with this food,” Pollack says, “and to show people that it’s special; it’s not necessarily some cheap food you get at some convenience store.”
One of the big reasons Pollack has pulled off the previously impossible task of bringing “authentic” East Coast eats to Colorado — this’ll be the third Rosenberg’s location, with more to come — is because he understands what he can and can’t replicate. He can replicate New York’s water (long mythologized as the reason for its superior pizza) by making a concentration of Colorado water and then adding minerals (primarily calcium and magnesium, which affect gluten strains) back in. He can’t replace time — baking processes that take 25 minutes at a lower altitude might take an hour and a half in Colorado. And he can’t replace air moisture — kaiser rolls, for instance, are light breads that turn to “sawdust” within hours in Colorado, and so it’s a fool’s errand to try to pull them off.
“We’re not reinventing any wheel,” Pollack says. “It’s so much harder to do that, to create a concept out of your imagination or inspiration. This food already inspired me, and there’s already a roadmap for this. People have been doing this for over 100 years the same exact way, whereas all these places outside of New York just didn’t do it the same way and that’s what blows my mind. It’s like, stop. Stop changing it. Stop steaming your bagels; they need to be boiled. Stop proofing on plastic, they need to proof on wood. Stop rushing it. … There are all these steps that go into it.”
You may have to pay more for this goodness than you would on the East Coast (though not by Colorado standards; $1.75 for a bagel, $10-$13 for a bagel sandwich is on par). Pollack says that’s because of a variety of factors including the concentration of such delis, bagel shops and whatnot on the East Coast driving price down through competition, as well as the cost of “importing” products like Taylor ham (or pork roll, depending on where you’re from). But, the more people eating and valuing this stuff in Colorado, the more Rosenberg’s locations there are, the more other restaurants bring in fresh salmon, meats and other ingredients, the quicker the price will go down.
In a lot of ways, the Rosenberg’s expansion into Boulder brings Pollack full circle. “The Hill has lost a lot of its luster over the last decade compared to when I was a student there,” he says, citing an experience last year when he got out of a show at the Fox and couldn’t find a place to have a bite and a drink.
But with the addition of a bagel shop with mutli-demographic appeal like Rosenberg’s, and which will turn into Rosenberg’s After Dark in the evening — with a full bar, pizza, deli sandwiches, music, Seinfeld and Jets games showing on the TVs — Pollack hopes to help bring the neighborhood back to the way he remembers it during his glory days.
And the revitalization extends to the actual spot on which Rosenberg’s is located — 1262 College Ave. The plot was the site of one of the Hill’s first homes, and the building that’s there now, once housed the Rose Hill movie theater.
One final thing: This story probably reeks of East Coast favoritism, but if you’re a native Westerner (and made it this far), the Northeast ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, certainly not anymore. Says Pollack, of when people note the prices of his food: “People will be like, ‘Oh, it’s so cheap in New York.’ I’ll say, ‘When was the last time you were there?’”
So maybe we’re not all that different, that our tastes aren’t dissimilar. Maybe, like Pollack’s bagels, all it takes to spread good food throughout the country is time.
Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen will open at 1262 College Ave. in Boulder in April. The team is holding a hiring fair at the Fox Theatre on Feb. 25 from 5-8 p.m., March 6 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and March 11 from 5-8 p.m. Pre-apply at bitly.com/BTRGcareers.