New York style bagels coming to the South Hills

The South Hills is getting something it desperately needs: an authentic bagel shop. Audrey Brown, Roselawn Avenue, is opening Balena Bagels later this summer at 3805 Willow Avenue in Castle Shannon to fill the hole.

The new shop will offer a variety of freshly made bagels including plain, everything and poppy seed, as well as rotating daily offerings such as chocolate chip. Customers can also order sandwiches, including fan-favorite bacon, egg and cheese, or a bagel sandwich with lox, capers and onions. The store will also sell black and white cookies, bagel chips, homemade granola, coffee and tea.

Brown is most excited about the Shakshuka sandwich. It’s a take on the classic North African/Middle Eastern dish, featuring tomato jam and fried eggs.

“It’s something that I grew up eating,” Brown said. “So now I’m going to try to make that into a bagel sandwich, which I think people will love.”

Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs are lacking in the bagel game, according to Brown. “We don’t really have anything like that in the South Hills,” Brown said. “To get a good bagel, I used to have to take my kids to Squirrel Hill and we would do that on the weekends. And there’s nothing around here. It was a nice family thing that we used to do, [but] that required effort.”

Now, Brown and her family will be short walk from her own bagel store, right over the border of Lebo.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown used the down time to bake and perfect her bagel-making craft. The key to a good bagel is very simple, according to Brown. “Crunchy on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside.”

To achieve the perfect texture at Balena Bagels, she will use a three-step fermentation process to create the sourdough bagels. She even spent time in New Jersey, where she learned best practices for baking and opening a shop.

“It was really fun to immerse yourself in bagels 24/7,” Brown said, reflecting on her experience learning from a fellow bagel baker in New Jersey.

“I learned her favorite yeast versus others and we went shopping for ingredients and found these black sesame seeds that I hadn’t thought about. She knows a lot about these things and she shared with me all of her knowledge about the oven and other equipment that I couldn’t have learned on my own.”

The name Balena Bagels draws on Brown’s Italian-Jewish roots.

“Balena means whale in Italian, and a whale is just a symbol of a lot of good things like power intelligence and times of transition. I liked the significance of a whale and I like the name Balena and because my family’s from Italy, and I wanted there to be an Italian-Jewish influence on the sandwiches.”

Balena Bagels is expected to open this summer. Follow Balena Bagels on Instagram or on Facebook to stay updated.

The future home of Balena Bagels, 3805 Willow Avenue.