When Bagel Crust owner Al Rusinque came to the United States from Colombia 25 years ago, he probably didn’t anticipate settling down in State College, serving up handmade, New York-style bagels to college students and families alike. However, that’s exactly what happened, and now the Bagel Crust has a second location.
Though Rusinque did help found several other bagel shops around the country, it was State College that earned the spot for his two current shops, the first opening when his son was accepted at Penn State about three years ago. That Bagel Crust is in downtown State College, right near campus; however, Rusinque acknowledges that, while perfectly catering to the pedestrians and college students, the location has its drawbacks for families and those living outside the area.
“We wanted to get some of the locals,” Rusinque said of the new Westerly Parkway branch. “We wanted to get them here, because I could see them, coming to the other location, getting ticketed because you couldn’t park in front of the store, or they had little kids, holding their hands in the middle of all the college students.”
While Rusinque loves his downtown college crowds, he recognizes that it’s not an ideal situation for everyone, and the two locations may work well for separate demographics.
“In (the Westerly Parkway location), we get everything. Little kids, moms ... college kids who drive, working people,” he said. They also see the before- and after-school crowds from the nearby State College Area High School.
Fans of Bagel Crust will be glad to know that the newest incarnation (which is housed in a former bank) boasts the same great menu that’s been fulfilling cravings for the past few years. From traditional bagels to breakfast sandwiches to three-egg omeletes, to even lunch sandwiches, there’s a little bit of something for every taste. One of the best-sellers is the Hangover Sandwich, which comes with two eggs, bacon, sausage and American cheese.
Rusinque said his personal favorite depends on his mood. “If I’m being good, I like the Skinny Lady, but if I’m normal, I eat the Big Al.”
Both are fantastic choices, with the Skinny Lady featuring an array of tempting veggie toppings — loads of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, sweet peppers and spinach — and the Big Al piled high with grilled chicken, bacon, mozzarella cheese and herb mayonnaise.
Bagel Crust also features seasonal favorites. The tie-dye bagels, featuring two or more colors or flavors, are a huge hit with every age group for their fun design. The Valentine’s special was a mix of chocolate chip and strawberry, and, later in the year, Bagel Crust will celebrate the Nittany Lions with blue and white-striped bagels on game days.
Other items on the menu are named after previous or current employees. The Ready Lamar, a two-egg sandwich with double sausage and cheese, for example, was renamed after one food runner who’d heard perhaps one too many variations of “Is the food ready, Lamar?” over the course of his employment.
Rusinque is a firm believer that diners won’t find a similar product just anywhere, and it all comes down to the careful creation of each item on the menu.
“We still carry everything homemade. We still do everything one thing at a time,” he said. “If you order a sandwich, most likely we’re going to build it from scratch right there and then.”
One of the 13 or so employees arrive at Bagel Crust every day at about 5 a.m. to start baking in time for the 7 a.m. opening. Each bagel is made in the New York tradition, and is free from additives, preservatives, butter and eggs, with ingredients sourced from around the state.
The almost 2-month- old location has already established its own set of regulars. For Rusinque, it’s this social aspect of owning the Bagel Crust that may just be his favorite.
“This is like being home ... seeing old friends,” he said.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
If you go
What: Bagel Crust
Where: 460 Westerly Parkway, State College