Chef Scott Walton started making bagels as a way to keep Acorn, his fine dining restaurant in Shadyside, afloat during the pandemic. But what started as a necessity became a calling.
After a long stint within Chicago’s culinary scene, Walton opened Acorn on Walnut St. in 2017. But the restaurant’s beautifully plated food didn’t work with a pandemic takeout model, so the chef pivoted to bagels. Walton would whip up 1,200 to 1,400 bagels over the course of a weekend to meet the demand.
Seeing an opportunity to try something new and ditch his grueling 70-hour work week schedule, Walton decided to leave Acorn and devote himself to bagels.
In September, he opened Gussy’s Bagels & Deli in Oakland. (Gussy’s is named after Walton’s friend and former NFL quarterback Gus Frerotte.) In the process, Walton traded late-night shifts for early morning hours, getting to the shop before 5 a.m. to heat up the oven, a remnant from the pizza parlor that used to occupy the Oakland space.
The fast-casual spot at 3606 Fifth Ave. specializes in traditional bagel flavors — plain, sesame, poppyseed, onion, cinnamon raisin, egg and sea salt, pumpernickel and everything — made the traditional way. Hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. On a recent Monday, Walton sold out of 400 bagels by 11 a.m.
Walton’s offerings have even impressed some Big Apple natives, which Walton takes as the ultimate compliment.
“It’s hard to find a good bagel outside of New York,” he says. “It’s special.”
The dough is made fresh daily and rises through natural fermentation. It is devoid of sugar or corn syrup but Gussy’s adds honey for a touch of sweetness. The dense rings are boiled before they go into the 75-year-old Italian oven, which gives them a nice, chewy texture.
In addition to bagels — which can be accompanied by lox and a variety of schmear varieties — the shop serves soups, sides and sandwiches. Served on triple-layer Old World rye bread, the Big Gussy sandwich includes pastrami, corned beef, white American cheese, horseradish, red onion, pickle and Gussy’s Famous Sauce.
With a variety of fresh deli meats available, customers can build their own sandwich or take cold cuts by the pound to go.
Walton, who has catered 10,000-seat parties and helmed kitchens at Michelin Star restaurants, is happy to still be on the local scene making simple, yet delicious, food. He hopes to open more locations throughout Pittsburgh.
“I wanted to still cook the way I cook but bring my food to more people,” he says. “The bagel is the vehicle.”