Simple Entertaining: Build a Bagel Bar

These days, you only have to tap into Twitter for about eight seconds before at least three people offer up a (delicious! decadent! do-ahead!) suggestion for your Easter brunch.

I’m just as guilty as any of them, recently recommending you add this citrus salad with honey-cinnamon syrup to your menu. Sure it’s simple, but it’s one more thing to plan and execute, when perhaps you’re already exhausted at the thought of entertaining for Easter.

So today, I have another idea – a plan for those of you who seriously have. no. time. but will be receiving hungry nephews, uncles, neighbours and friends regardless. It’s simply this: build a bagel bar. You can delegate people to contribute toppings or shop for them yourself, and everything is assembled the morning of your brunch. Let’s look at the breakdown and a few suggestions for a creative buffet.

Bagel Bar

Bagels, Spreads & Proteins

Now I like to make my own bagels, because that time spent kneading, shaping and baking relaxes me, but I believe we’ve already established that you don’t have time for baking. Fine. However, in case something opens up between now and the weekend, my recipe for Honey Whole Wheat Bagels is well worth the effort.

Bagels freeze very well, so you can pick them up from your favourite shop well ahead of time. Get an assortment to suit all tastes. I think it’s nice to split and toast them for the brunch buffet; your oven’s broiler works well for toasting 5 or so at a time.

Cream cheese (full fat, if you please) is hard to beat, but ricotta makes a nice change. It’s actually really quick to make yourself, if you’re feeling ambitious (here’s my recipe for homemade ricotta). Either spread is lovely jazzed up with a little horseradish and black pepper.

Serve smoked salmon or lox, as well as a cured meat such as thinly shaved serrano or black forest ham for those who don’t enjoy seafood. Look for wild caught smoked salmon. Buy it frozen and thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

Bagel bar


I say forget about the usual boring trio of toppings: red onion, capers and dill. Instead, switch toppings up with a variety of textures and bold flavours. The chewy bagel and mild fish are a blank slate just waiting to be paired with something exciting. Here are a few suggestions.

Vegetables: Thinly sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes are all fantastic. Avocado is decadent and delicious. Sprouts are always good, too. Try young pea shoots or shaved fennel for something a little different.

Pickles: Now is the best time to raid the pantry for pickled asparagus, ramps and fiddleheads. I recently served up pickled daylily buds on a bagel bar and they were a huge hit. If you really love red onion on bagels, try a quick pickled version for a change.

Condiments: Fresh ground pepper, flaky sea salt or a flavoured salt are essential for garnishing. Now would be a good time to bring out your homemade Sage Rosemary Salt or Meyer Lemon Salt. Wedges of fresh lemon or strips of confit lemon bring a flavour balance to the dressed bagel.

bagel bar

No matter how many or few items you set out, this is a guaranteed crowd-pleasing meal that is easily executed. I can’t wait to do it all over again soon.

Happy Brunching!

What do you like on your bagel sandwich?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. So many fun ideas! We are big fans of homemade bagels here. Everything bagels made into a sandwich with a fried egg and cheddar cheese are our go-to.

    Now I really want some bagels…

  2. I love this idea SO much. We’re actually moving the weekend after Easter, so this might be a good idea for those who help us load the truck in the morning!
    Sarah M

    • oh, and one of our favorite light summer lunches are “everything” bagels or onion, with grey poupon country dijon mustard, cheddar slices and tomatoes (with a bit of salt and pepper on top)!
      Sarah M

  3. Love this idea! I actually stored it away after I saw your Instagram picture. What do you not pickle?! I had no idea that you could pickle daylily buds, love the idea of something totally different like that.

  4. Such a fun idea! We love bagels at our house!!

  5. Teri Montgomery says

    I agree this is a great idea for entertaining a large crowd. One of my favorite bagel sandwiches is topped with lots of sprouts, avocado, goat cheese, tomato, cucumber, roasted red pepper, green leaf veggie and Lox, if available. My Grandson’s go to, as Lisa commented earlier, is also egg and cheddar. He would eat these everyday, but I am worried about his eating to many eggs. Would love some feedback on how many eggs are too many in a weeks time. I also really miss the Bagel/Sandwich shops which seem to have disappeared here in the Northwest. Must be the ever changing diet fads that chased them away.?

    • Goat cheese is a great idea!!

      Honestly, we are getting new information on eggs and how healthy they actually are. You could ask his doctor, but I’d say one a day is not too much, especially if they are free-range eggs. They are nearly a perfect food and contain so many nutrients.

  6. Simple the great way!! Just how it should be!

  7. Thanks! We tried this idea and it was a huge hit – which, IMHO, is generally the case with ‘customization’ by selective/creative young eaters (and older ones, too). We used your BEJJ slow-cooker ham and cheesecake recipes for our Easter family feast, and they were wonderful, especially the ham – super idea (smacking forehead that I didn’t think of it sooner m’self). I did a marmalade glaze on the cheesecake with a fresh mint chiffonade. Your potato strudel is my Dad’s most asked-for side, so I made it, too. Thank you, thank you : )

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