Call Your Mother: Overpriced Kitsch
One lowly JAP’s opinion on the DC bagel craze
As a self-identified Jewish-American Princess from NYC, I’m constantly peppered with questions from my DC friends about my true thoughts on Call Your Mother. They’ve heard the hype, and they want to know: Is it really as good as a New York bagel?
Is Call Your Mother fun? Yes. Is it Instagrammable? Absolutely. Is it good? Well…
Call Your Mother arrived first to DC’s Park View neighborhood in 2018. Only four years later, they have seven permanent locations, and their bagels appear weekly at five farmers markets around the city. This is a sign of massive success, especially given that all of that expansion happened DURING the pandemic. The bagel shop’s huge success rate is partly due to a whole bunch of good press — Biden’s first stop post-inauguration was Call Your Mother, and Bon Appétit named the bagel shop to its 2019 roundup of the 50 best new restaurants in the nation, making it the only DC spot on the list.
CYM owes much of its success to the way it has branded itself. With an electric color scheme of bubblegum pink and aqua, Call Your Mother is easily recognizable from miles away. They are tongue-in-cheek, with a wall of old-fashioned telephones as another reminder to call Mom, and the promise of serving food that is just“Jew-ish,” since many sandwich options aren’t Kosher. All these factors make CYM the cutesy, friendly bagel shop that it is.
Unfortunately, just like most places that get a lot of hype and have a line out the door, Call Your Mother is set up to disappoint.
This isn’t even because I’m being prissy about the bagels in a snooty, I’m-from-New-York way. Let the record show that I think the bagels themselves are fine. They’re not super fluffy, and there isn’t much crunch to the crust, but the bagel itself is totally passable. My problem with CYM is not the bagels themselves — even when they’re a little burnt, or too thin, or overseasoned. (Okay, maybe I have a little problem with the bagels.)
One reason why I find their food disappointing is because of their sandwich flavors. The flavors seem pretty revolutionary on the surface: from raspberry guava jam to latkes, Call Your Mother is offering some flavor profiles that you don’t see every day. On my most recent trip to CYM, I ordered the Gleneagle, a Za’atar bagel with candied salmon cream cheese, cucumbers, fried shallots, and lettuce. The balance of ingredients was all wrong— there were shallots and candied fish exploding everywhere, and only two cucumbers on each half, which was a shame because they offered a cool respite from the overwhelming sweetness of the sandwich. The Za’atar flavor was totally lost in the mix, and the lettuce only added crunch to a bagel that was already rendered too-crunchy by shallots. My conclusion was that if this new flavor is a revolution in bagel sandwiches, it is a joyless one.
Yet not even the dubious sandwich flavors are my main issue with this bagel shop. My true problem with CYM is the cost. In my humble opinion, a bagel with cream cheese should cost $2.50 to $3, and a bagel sandwich should top out at $7.50. I know that CYM has recently recommitted to serving the communities they find themselves in through charitable efforts like free breakfasts for school-age kids, which likely contributes to the high prices of these bagels, and I respect that. However, I think it’s simply too much of an ask to have people waiting in lines out the door for bagels that cost $10 and aren’t utterly marvelous.
Call Your Mother is a great option if you’re catching up with a friend, looking for a sandwich and a stroll. But if you’re in search of a fast, cheap meal in the District or a good bagel, look elsewhere.