By Frank Sabatini Jr.
We came for the sandwiches made with Montreal-style bagels and ended up shoveling down four crazy-good doughnuts first. It wasn’t supposed to go that way, but when queuing up to place your order at the new location of Nomad Donuts, the colorful and imaginative array of sweets takes first dibs on your appetite.
At least 20 different types of doughnuts fill the display case on any given day, most of which you’ll never see in the leading chains: dragonfruit-acai, green apple sage, strawberry-lavender, and a host of others conceived by Nomad’s partner and executive chef, Kristianna Zabala.
Her rotating repertoire, which includes a decent number of vegan options, has come to include hundreds of flavors since the shop opened a few years ago at its original, nearby location on 30th Street. The new digs are five times bigger in comparison, affording Zabala more kitchen space to pump up the selection and offer creative bagel sandwiches that capture everything from house-cured salmon and brisket to marinated pork and various veggie combinations.
From the quartet of doughnuts we initially consumed was my dream-come-true, one slathered with cherry-pineapple frosting made supposedly with fruit purees. I chose the vegan version and couldn’t tell at all it was egg-less and made with soy milk.
My companion took the first messy bite of a doughnut filled with a bomb’s worth of house-made blackberry jam. Somewhere in either the crumb or frosting were whispers of peach and ginger, making for a wildly stimulating flavor experience that was brilliantly fruity and spicy at the same time.
The light and airy chamomile cruller verged on a traditional doughnut with sugar icing, except for the herby aftertaste suggesting that a modicum of the anti-inflammatory tea was present. Conversely, the cake-style mango-passionfruit doughnut was exotic, offering a tropical essence enhanced by shaved coconut and semi-sweet icing on top.
I’m in the minority of people who don’t like bagels, except for these.
Zabala refers to the Montreal method, meaning the bagels are boiled in sweetened water rather than plain or salted. And they’re wood-fired instead of baked in convection ovens. The results are thinner bagels with bigger holes that taste like good rustic bread sporting charred, crispy edges.
They’re available in four varieties: plain, sesame, poppy and “everything,” which are topped with sesame, poppy and sunflower seeds plus dried onions.
We indulged in three different sandwiches, starting with the top-selling salmon that’s cured for three days in multiple spices, including fennel and mustard seeds. Choosing a plain bagel, it was crammed with the Canadian-Atlantic fish and a combination of dill-caper cream cheese, pickled red onions, arugula and lemon vinaigrette.
I would have preferred less arugula and no vinaigrette as to allow for the salmon to sparkle brighter. My companion, however, didn’t mind the gush of flavors.
For the spicy Hawaiian open-face sandwich, we chose the “everything” bagel. Its hearty topping paired swimmingly with mantles of marinara sauce, mozzarella, red chili pork and pineapple, which didn’t jangle the scheme like it does for me on pizza.
The pork katsu on a black sesame bagel was my favorite due in part to the meat’s leanness and crispy panko breading. A pleasing crunch pervaded throughout the entire sandwich, starting with the wood-fired bagel and extending to Asian pear and fennel slaw. Generous measures of cilantro also tucked inside added extra-fresh flavor.
After operating at the new location for seven weeks, Nomad recently held its grand opening to lines around the corner, when hundreds of mini, complimentary doughnuts and bagels were bestowed to new and established patrons.
Founder Brad Keiller said the relocated project is still “a work in progress,” as he awaits a permit for a sidewalk patio that he hopes will be followed by a license to sell beer and wine. As for the original shop at 4504 30th St., Keiller added that it will remain dark until he decides what to do with the space.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.