The Bagel Man

This is the story of my favorite summer meal and the lovely soul who inspired it. It is the story of romance and a couple working on graduate degrees in journalism and taking late-night walks for midnight snacks.

This one is for The Bagel Man, with love.

Off the campus of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale runs a street known as “The Strip,” where students are prone to ramble after dark. Boasting restaurants, bars, “the world’s busiest Dairy Queen” and “the world’s largest Halloween celebration,” The Strip also featured, circa early 1980s, a fantastic bagel for just one buck.

From a push-cart equipped with built-in BBQ grill for toasting and containers with tons of toppings, a beautiful young soul known as “The Bagel Man” plied his famous concoctions. He must have sold a million of them. And with his stories, his songs of bagels and his charm made a million hearts happy.

There were tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, alfafa sprouts, raisins, apples, cinnamon, peanuts, sunflower seeds and many other toppings to mix and match, and the wackier the combination the better. All on a grilled bagel heaped with cream cheese. Just a buck!

The first time I met this young man, I asked him to recommend his favorite bagel combination, and I was hooked. I reproduce it here, not the real thing, but as close as I can get:

Preparation time: 15 minutes. Serves three persons – two bagels per person.

6 Lender’s frozen bagels – plain
1 cucumber, sliced
Planter’s Dry-Roasted Peanuts, salted
Sunmaid Raisins
8 oz. Philadelphia Cream Cheese (don’t even think about using fat-free)

Toast whole frozen bagels on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for six minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the bagels to toast for six more minutes.

On each toasted bagel bottom, spread one-sixth of the block of cream cheese.

Press a handful of raisins and a handful of peanuts into the cream cheese (use a dinner plate as some of the goodies will spill out).

Top with three cucumber slices and press the bagel top on.

Of all the things I learned at SIU-Carbondale, this was probably the most lasting and rewarding!


Out of curiosity, I did a Google search on “The Bagel Man, Carbondale, Illinois” and am delighted to know he’s still there on The Strip every night.

From an article:

“Winston Mezo, Carbondale's legendary bagel man … has been a part of Carbondale's identity for more than two decades with his bagel empire.”

Comments from a restaurant review of “Winston’s Bagels:”

“Winston was one of the nicest people to me in my four years at Southern. In addition, he makes a GREAT, unique product for a very reasonable price. Also, of my top ten memories from SIU, two are at (or in line for) a Winston's bagel - in fact, Winston used to have a short poem I'd written about his bagels (for creative writing class) on his cart. I wonder if it's still there.”

“The best part about Winston's is the atmosphere he brings to it. His jokes about his brother, his solid grasp of world and Carbondale events, and Winston's overall Winstonyness make him as unique as his bagels.”

“This is really the best part of Winston's: how unique his product is. A few times, I've plagiarized Winston's recipes for dinners with friends (when I lived in DC and Chicago), and, without exception, they have always been a hit.”

Reading all the comments, I was amused at how many people remembered their favorite toppings!

I said this was a story of romance and late-night walks. I hope Winston remembers “Betty and Jim” just as thousands upon thousands remember him.

This is also a story of a young man, now probably a millionaire, who has stayed in one spot doing his thing for almost 30 years, simply because he loves it and is loved in return.

This is, then, a story of wonderful Southern nights – and success.

PHOTO: Been there, done that? You can even buy the T-shirt HERE.


Debra said...

I love bagels..... We have a store here in Jackson at Highland Village Shopping Center called "Beagle Bagle" and we eat lunch or dinner there at least 2 times a week....I always order salad sampler- which consist of chicken salad with grapes and almonds in it sitting on top of a pile of bean sprouts, with heated artichoke & rice with roasted red peppers and a bowl of fresh fruit, a pickle spear and a sun dried tomato bagel heated. ALL for $6.95
and it is delicious.....Going to have to go there for lunch today now that I think about it-YUM!!!!!
Love, Debra

Tiny said...

Tiny likes the bagel chips best. She likes crunchies. She tops them with cheese ball made with the cream cheese chipped dried beef and green onions. She uses that to stuff celery too. Yummy for the tummy!

Being an ole farm gal, there's few foods Tiny doesn't like. Her favorites are raw fruits and veggies. That good ole...crunch...crunch...crunch.

She's gonna pull out her sprout jar and get sprouts going again.

Thanks for the reminder to do that.

Bill Sumrall said...

I remember visiting the Bagel Man with you and Jim in Carbondale once upon a time and being impressed by his variety of toppings. I recall having a bagel topped by alfalfa sprouts, raisins, cream cheese and, I think, peanut butter (maybe it was peanuts). At any rate, delicious! And great times!

tnlib said...

Sweet story. How neat that The Bagel Man is still there doing his thing and he has so many loyal followers.

I'm not sure I could eat some of those combinations as I'm simply a cream cheese, lox and capers kind of bagel person.

Thanks for sharing. Something like this always brings back some related memories.

Frodo, ready to fight back said...

Frodo is simply glad that the Bagel Man doesn't this day have his cart placed outside a Mosque.

Asbestos Cancer said...

I can eat bagels every day of my life.

Sue said...

How nice the bagel man is still there! Wow BJ, great story, I love bagels too and I could go for a biggie right about now, a garlic one please!!