Bexley eatery sticks to tradition without becoming complacent

One person's “sticking to tradition” is another person's “stalled progress.” The latest iteration of local icon Block's Bagels, Bakery and Deli mines a rare middle ground: It's a restaurant where tradition is staunchly honored and gradually built upon.

This year, Block's is marking a half-century of producing credible, boiled-and-baked, New York-style bagels (plus other deli delicacies). Rather than standing pat, the moderately modernized new Block's run by 31-year-old Jeremy Fox moves the tradition-rich brand forward.

Fox, who got his food-business start with his Short North Bagel Deli food cart, is a longtime associate of Block's co-owners Harold and Steve Block. Upon opening his retooled version of Block's in the Bexley Centre strip mall four months ago, Fox began offering the company's classics — which are still available at its flagship shop near Reynoldsburg — along with a few newly minted items.

Another shrewd business move: the new restaurant, which effectively replaces a shuttered Block's in the same general area, is appreciably closer to the firm's strong customer base in Bexley.

This more user-friendly, tiny patio-equipped Block's is roomy, bright and tidy. Its long-and-narrow space is outfitted with white walls, a white ceiling, simple wooden tables, TVs and photographs alluding to vintage delis. Subway tiles gleam behind the counter where orders are placed.

Breakfast, which is offered all day, is a strength. One of my favorite morning meals here is the Corned Beef & Two Eggs ($7.45), which comes with a great house bagel.

Following a server's recommendations, I got the high-quality corned beef mixed in with the scrambled eggs, and had my just-crisp, perfectly chewy, whole-wheat everything bagel topped with spicy, first-rate jalapeno cream cheese (about a dozen Block's-made cream cheeses are available). Add on a large iced coffee ($2.25) prepared with locally roasted beans from One Line Coffee, and you've got a breakfast of champions.

I enjoyed the “all the way” Lox Sandwich ($8) at least as much. Good-tasting, not too-salty cured salmon — I call it “bacon of the sea” — is accompanied by its classic partners of capers, red onion, tomato and cream cheese. About two dozen bagel varieties are offered to encase the delicious filling, but for this combo, I suggest the poppy seed or whole-wheat sesame-seed option.

For a side, you can go with a Potato Knish ($3) equal in quality to the type purchased from New York street carts. The Matzo Ball Soup ($4.25) stars an impressively supple dough ball that far outshines an oddly light broth in need of more chicken character.

Among the 15 “specialty sandwiches,” the Two Scoops ($6.65) showcases terrific meaty-yet-fluffy, mayo-restrained house chicken salad.

The Good Ole Goodale ($7) is a combo Fox brought from his food-cart operation. It's a messy but big and irresistible sandwich of exemplary deli turkey, cream cheese, melted colby, avocado, honey mustard and lettuce all piled high into a bagel. The comforting construction is steamed for a softer, easier-to-chew texture.

Two other new items might also strike deli purists as heretical, but I liked them: Reuben Balls, ($6.50), which resemble fried sauerkraut balls improved by diced corned beef, and French Toast Bites ($5), a generous collection of not-too-sweet, snack-sized puffs made of fried house challah nubs decorated with icing, cinnamon, plus a little powdered sugar.

“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as … as a fiddler on the roof!” is a title-identifying line from an icon of American musical theater that, like Block's, premiered about 50 years ago. Because (as I was informed) 80 percent of the menu here is still traditional Block's fare, I'd describe such a metaphorical musician as being steadily perched, but not overly complacent, atop this newest Block's.