A New York state of mind

Alex and Olly of Brad & Dills in Harpenden.

Alex and Olly of Brad & Dills in Harpenden. - Credit: Brad & Dills

Tucked away on Harpenden High Street is a little taste of New York. If you love the filled bagel and coffee culture of the US, then head to Brad & Dills, which opened in July.

Brad & Dills is run by two old friends who went to school in Harpenden – they are actually called Alex and Olly! Alex explained that the name was inspired by his middle name and Olly’s nickname, and as so many classic filled bagels include dill pickles, it made sense to go with Brad & Dills.

The name does sound American, which is very much the vibe they are trying to create. The pair have created a really welcoming and smart little shop, with a short, focused menu, using small, indie suppliers. They already have lots of regulars heading in for their excellent coffee and fresh, filled bagels.

Brad & Dills started as a coffee and bagel van outside a local pub during lockdown, and when things returned more to normal, the duo decided to take the plunge and find a permanent base. You will find the café just a few doors up from the ever-popular Godfrey’s, tucked back from the road, behind smart box hedging. I love that they have retained the look of the building, and have gone for subtle branding (Five Guys take note).

A Brad & Dills filled bagel.

A Brad & Dills filled bagel. - Credit: Brad & Dills

The Caravan Coffee Roasters coffee is produced in Islington and has a great reputation in the café world – they source green coffee from single farms and specialty estates with a focus on sustainability and fair relationships with the growers in Ethiopia, Colombia and Rwanda, among others. I had an espresso and it was delicious.

Alex explained that they wanted to focus on filled bagels, as he loved the bagel culture when travelling in the US and living in Shoreditch. He used to buy bagels in Brick Lane and wanted to bring that concept back to their home town.

I like that it’s a short menu – the kitchen is tiny, and they prep it all fresh, so a short menu works well. Olly is a trained chef and former buyer in hospitality and Alex mentioned that he is very keen on high end ingredients and small suppliers. There are just five bagel options on the board, with a special most days

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 Egg 'n' Cheese is their bestseller at the moment, filled with a Cacklebean egg, American cheese and jalapeno. I had to look up Cacklebean and it’s a farm in the Cotswolds that is home to rare-breed free-range chickens, so pretty good as egg welfare goes. Again, other places take note!

The Reuben bagel is also very popular and follows the classic combination faithfully, with HG Walter pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, dill pickles and ‘secret sauce’. My friend Antonia chose this one and really enjoyed it. You can get smoked salmon, and when I went in, the special was tuna and sweetcorn mayo, which I ordered. It was perfectly nice, but quite expensive at £6.

I felt the choices were fairly limited for vegetarians, with Schmear the Love, aka lemon and chive cream cheese the only option. I would love to see something vegan on the menu, such as a hummus and roast vegetable or similar, which I am sure would be popular in Harpenden. You can get a sweet bagel such as hazelnut mascarpone, for around £4. The bagels are baked in London by Papo’s, another small independent, which is great to see. When I was in the café, a man came in hoping to just buy a bag of bagels, expecting it to be a bakery, but they don’t sell them loose – the focus is very much on filled bagels.

They also sell bars of Rare Bones chocolate and bags of coffee beans to take away, and I liked that the display is just tucked inside an old fireplace. They sell a few bakes too, including brownies, which are made locally. There is a windowsill seat inside and a few stools outside to eat, else takeaway and sit in one of the nearby green spaces.

Price-wise, I found the bagels a little on the pricey side, with some almost £7, but I am sure there are plenty of Harpenden residents who are able to pay that, and the quality is certainly good, and I wouldn’t want them to compromise on that.

The pair are thinking about perhaps opening another branch in the future, and are looking at St Albans, but as Alex explained, it’s more expensive and challenging to find such a central space. I was very impressed by their entrepreneurial spirit and look forward to seeing where they pop-up next!

67 High Street, Harpenden. Open 7.30am-4pm Monday to Friday and 9am-3pm on weekends.