One Fine Meal: Spiller Park’s Dale Donchey explores his roots, goes full bagel

A proper spread from Dear Friend, Bagel should include egg salad, whitefish salad, Staplehouse pastrami, lox and all the spreads and accoutrement.
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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A proper spread from Dear Friend, Bagel should include egg salad, whitefish salad, Staplehouse pastrami, lox and all the spreads and accoutrement. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With Spiller Park Coffee, Dale Donchey poured his twin passions — barista culture and baseball —into a coffeeshop with a sense of history and place. Spiller Park, which opened in 2015, is a tribute to the Atlanta Crackers’ playing field from almost 100 years ago. Sometimes known as Ponce de Leon Park, it was across the street from the first Spiller Park Coffee at Ponce City Market.

This was a way for Donchey, who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, to express affection for his adopted hometown of Atlanta, where he’s spent almost half his life.

With Dear Friend, Bagels — a weekend pop-up operating out of Spiller Park — Donchey has turned to exploring his spiritual side. Though his father is Jewish and his mother’s family is from Poland, birthplace of the bagel, Donchey, 39, didn’t really delve into his heritage until the past decade or so.

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At Dear Friend, Bagels, the Bagel Palace sandwich pays tribute to the iconic Toco Hills deli of the same name. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

At Dear Friend, Bagels, the Bagel Palace sandwich pays tribute to the iconic Toco Hills deli of the same name. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
At Dear Friend, Bagels, the Bagel Palace sandwich pays tribute to the iconic Toco Hills deli of the same name. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“Whereas Spiller Park is my egotistical, competitive self, Dear Friend is my very earnest, very humble, very thankful, very romantic side,” said Donchey, who started making bagels at home in southeast Atlanta a few years ago, mainly because he didn’t want to drive across town to the General Muir or Bagel Palace at Toco Hills. Like a letter to a friend, the name is epistolary, reflective.

First a coffee nerd (Steady Hand Pour House, Method Coffee Bar & Tea Lounge, Empire State South), Donchey now has gone all-in with bagels.

Dear Friend’s namesake product is made with 48% fermented Georgia-grown whole wheat and South Carolina rye, both fresh-milled by Atlanta’s Root Baking Co. Before baking, the bagels are boiled in a mixture of Georgia honey and barley syrup. Donchey’s embrace of old techniques gives his plain, salt, sesame, sumac-poppy and everything bagels their distinctive, chewy texture, slightly crispy exterior, and complex flavor profile.

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Dear Friend, Bagels serves terrific bagel sandwiches; this is the Steinberg, with egg, cheese and pastrami. Wendell Brock for The AJC

Credit: Wendell Brock

Dear Friend, Bagels serves terrific bagel sandwiches; this is the Steinberg, with egg, cheese and pastrami. Wendell Brock for The AJC

Credit: Wendell Brock

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Dear Friend, Bagels serves terrific bagel sandwiches; this is the Steinberg, with egg, cheese and pastrami. Wendell Brock for The AJC

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

As much as Donchey digs bagels, he also adores the traditional appetizing food that goes with them: lox, pastrami, schmears. (Don’t we all?) Ultimately, Donchey, who just announced a third Spiller Park location at Moores Mill Center, envisions Dear Friend as a classic Jewish delicatessen with a Southern spin.

For now, he builds crazy-delicious bagel sandwiches.

One, the Steinberg, with egg, cheese, and caramelized onion, is a tribute to his girlfriend, Natasha Steinberg. (I suggest you add Staplehouse pastrami.) I also recommend the Bagel Palace: Named for the iconic Toco Hills deli that once was his neighbor, it’s crafted with lox and a wonderfully lemony dill-labneh schmear.

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Among the things you can have on your bagel at Dear Friends are lox, egg salad, pastrami and whitefish salad. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Among the things you can have on your bagel at Dear Friends are lox, egg salad, pastrami and whitefish salad. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

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Among the things you can have on your bagel at Dear Friends are lox, egg salad, pastrami and whitefish salad. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

After three Dear Friend experiences (a bagel given to me by a friend; the two aforementioned sandwiches; and a Sunday spread I ordered in advance, to share with company), I’d say Dear Friend is the most exciting development in Atlanta Jewish restaurant food since the General Muir opened in 2013.

Start with a sandwich, and, if you are smitten, consider ordering a spread. Just be sure to give 48 hours notice.

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A spread from Dear Friend, Bagels makes for terrific weekend brunch at home. Just be sure to give the restaurant 48 hours’ notice. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

A spread from Dear Friend, Bagels makes for terrific weekend brunch at home. Just be sure to give the restaurant 48 hours’ notice.
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
A spread from Dear Friend, Bagels makes for terrific weekend brunch at home. Just be sure to give the restaurant 48 hours’ notice. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Donchey brags that his whitefish salad is the best around — and it is pretty smashing — but I’m also taken with his egg salad; the assertively peppery black pepper labneh; and a pickle assortment that includes red onions with sumac and plenty of salt. All the food is incredibly fresh and beautiful.

On a glorious almost-spring day, an outdoor bagel brunch with all the accouterments might make friends and family feel just a little bit dearer. They may even write you a thank-you note.

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Dale Donchey, owner of Spiller Park Coffee, is paying tribute to his Jewish heritage with a bagel pop-up called Dear Friend, Bagels. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Dale Donchey, owner of Spiller Park Coffee, is paying tribute to his Jewish heritage with a bagel pop-up called Dear Friend, Bagels. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Combined ShapeCaption
Dale Donchey, owner of Spiller Park Coffee, is paying tribute to his Jewish heritage with a bagel pop-up called Dear Friend, Bagels. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

DEAR FRIEND, BAGELS

Menu: bagels, bagel sandwiches and appetizing

Alcohol: no

Recommended dishes: Bagel Palace and Steinberg sandwiches, egg salad, whitefish salad, pastrami, lox, black pepper labneh, dill labneh and pickles, especially the sumac onions

Price range: $3-$12, for bagels and sandwiches (one free bagel with orders of six or 12); lox, pastrami, etc. available by the pound

Service options: takeout only

Outdoor dining: yes, at Toco Hills

Experience: Though Dear Friend has a separate website and ordering platform, I never have seen it activated. Best bet is to go through Spiller Park. I had a great experience ordering Friday takeout sandwiches from the Toco Hills restaurant. For my Sunday spread, I called Toco Hills for details, then emailed my order. The staff was extremely helpful and eager to please.

Address, phone: 675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta, 470-347-6446; 2929 N. Druid Hills Road, Atlanta, 404-662-9766

Hours: bagels available at Ponce City Market, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays, and at Toco Hills, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays and Sundays; check @dearfriendbagels on Instagram for specials and additional hours

Website: spillerpark.com; dearfriendbagels.com

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