The first thing you notice upon entering Eltana on Capitol Hill is the woodpile. If Eltana specialized in handcrafted furniture or fireplaces, this would hardly be unusual. But Eltana doesn't specialize in handcrafted furniture or fireplaces; it specializes in bagels.
The pieces of wood aren't used to create the bagels' holes; they're used to cook the bagels, which are laboriously fashioned by hand. Near the woodpile is a gigantic oven with visible flames that bake Eltana's bagels to a char. It looks like overkill, similar to Secretariat donning blinkers and shooting Lasix before a race against a three-legged turtle, and the smoking wood makes the spacious, high-ceilinged cafe smell like a sauna.You forget all this when you bite into the bagel, however. Hard and tiny, these are known as Montreal bagels, because French-Canadians like everything to be hard and tiny. But it's the motion in the ocean that counts, and Eltana's bagels go down swimmingly, with a generous amount of cream cheese heaped on in a shrewd departure from the shyster "schmear" wave that inexplicably washed over holey hell for a spell.
The other thing about Eltana is it's more Jewish than Itzhak Perlman flinging matzah balls at Congregation Shaarei Tefilah-Lubavitch's rabbi. Eltana bumps klezmer music like '90s stoners bumped Cypress Hill, and espouses Jewish values in its corporate literature, while carefully noting that prospective employees needn't necessarily belong to the tribe. It's got shakshuka and fava-bean soup on the menu, and it's hearty and cheap--not in the anti-Semitic sense, but in the get-filled-up-for-not-much-money-in-really-crummy-economic-times paradigm.
Talk about a hole in one.
Eltana, 1538 12th Ave., 724-0660, eltana.com CAPITOL HILL.