Fast Casual Review: Einstein Brother’s Nova and Lox
Well, it’s that time of the year again for Catholics. Aside from providing us plenty to feel guilty about and making us attempt to give up something we don’t really want anyways (as opposed to, you know, something that would actually be good for us to give up), the season before Easter inspires the inevitable renaissance of fried fish everywhere. Whether adhered to in the regular “no meat” on Friday’s rule, or in more conservative and personal models which shun meat altogether, the intersection of fried fish and Catholics during the spring has become ingrained in the cultural fabric of a good part of this country.
There’s just one problem for a good Catholic boy like me. What if I don’t “do” Fried Fish?
Don’t get me wrong. I love fish – all kinds of it really. I regularly hog the shrimp cocktail at parties, and have never passed up a good rare tuna steak in my life. I go bonkers for sardines right from the can, and heck, I even like a cheap fish stick in nostalgic joy every now and again. But unlike my buddy Ryan – who I consider the foremost authority on all fish sandwiches – I could just never get into the combo of bread white fish + bun + tarter sauce. Truth be told, I find it positively boring. Problem is, I’m also a fast food and fast casual junkie. This dilemma makes choosing a non-meat option on Friday’s rather tough, especially considering I find the concept of eggs + cheese to be equally boring.
Enter Einstein Bros.
“But Adam,” you’re probably saying, “I thought you swore off Einstein’s after yet another flop?” And you know what? I did, for a little bit at least. But raised prices and smaller bagels aside, I still find myself at the Denver-based fast casual for Sunday breakfast, although more than not, that breakfast includes a baggie full of Froot Loops to go with the Einstein’s coffee I buy. But last week, after winning a bet against one of the other “usual” patrons at our big table, I was treated to one menu item of my choice. I knew just what to get, and despite all their flops, I have to give Einstein’s credit in that they still can put together one my favorite breakfasts of all time: Nova and Lox on a toasted pumpernickel bagel.
Einstein’s rendition of the classic features a bagel of your choice, plain cream cheese “schmear,” tomatoes, red onions, capers, and yes, thinly sliced buttery smoked salmon. It’ll cost you $5.75 but it’s worth every penny, especially considering that it’s one of those few menu items that is really tough to build on your own, and will almost always cost you more at a genuine Jewish deli. But take my word for it – you’ll want to smoke out that regular cream cheese for their Smoked Salmon schemer, which will take the boldness and smoky richness of the salmon to a whole new level.
Here, it’s all about the quality of the ingredients, preparation, and classically complementing flavors. First of all you’ve got to get this on a traditional bagel choice (I suggest everything or pumpernickel). Einstein’s pumpernickel bagel is the best I’ve encountered from a chain. It has a strong rye and molasses flavor with a good earthy chew, and the bits of caraway seed add a great touch. It’s layered with capers which are fairly mild in salt content, but still flavorful and not overly watery. Lightly toasted, the bagel base holds up well to the cream cheese “schmear.” The schmear is the best part. It has an amazingly bold and deep flavor of actual smoked salmon. It’s the kind of flavor which lingers in the back of your mouth for hours, and it’s complimented by a creamy base and that contrasts masterfully with fresh cut and crisp red onions, as well as sweet and fresh tomatoes. I was impressed by the tomatoes given the shortages many places have experienced. These weren’t overly watery or limp, but rather fully plump and sweet. Finally, a layer of rich, buttery, yet neutral-flavored salmon rounded out the open faced sandwich. The portion isn’t huge – maybe an ounce on each bagel half – but it feels and tastes high class and can leave you mentally satiated for a long morning full of doing, well, whatever it is you do on Sunday mornings.
I knock Einstein’s a lot, and for good reason, but at the end of the morning they can still produce the best Nova and Lox of any non-authentic Jewish deli this side of NYC. I may never have gotten my “personal” apology from their contact after my last review, but I’ll take the continued presence of this Jewish staple to the traditional fish sandwich any Friday during Lent.
Pros: Smoked Salmon cream cheese is BOLD and INTENSE, with lingering smoke taste. Pumpernickel bagel holds its own. Fresh cut veggies. Buttery, rich salmon. Good price and great selection for a fast casual. Einstein actually getting something right.
Cons: More expensive than your standard bagel and cream cheese. Salmon by itself doesn’t have exceptional smoky flavor. Perception as a pretentious fish eater kills by fast food street cred.
Grubbing on-the-go: 4.00/10
Overall GrubGrade: 9.00 (Exceptional)
More Info: www.einsteinbros.com
Einstein Bros. Nova and Lox (calculated for Plain bagel and plain schmear)
Total Fat: 18 g
Saturated Fat: 9 g
Cholesterol: 45 mg
Sodium: 930 mg
Total Carbs: 62 g
Fiber: 3 g
Sugars: 10 g
Protein: 23 g