Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Dish: Bagels

First and foremost, if you are from anywhere outside of New York, and its surrounding boroughs you are not allowed to claim you have the best bagels, let alone real bagels. Anyone who has tried a bagel down in Florida or in Texas knows that they are not what most of America is eating. A bagel is not some heavy meal, they are light, incredibly flavorful, soft and a little chewy. They are usually pretty big, with a small whole in the middle, not some jumbo center missing like it's a donut. The best way to tell a good bagel from a bad bagel is cutting it in half. If it starts smooshing up too much, it wasn't made right and you might as well get a slice of bread.

Types of bagels vary from my two favorites, cinnamon raison and everything, to exotic flavors like asiago jalapeƱo (at Au Bon Pain...) or olive & pine nut. There are even extensions of bagels, called the bialy, or as I like to think of it, the Jewish uncle of the bagel family. Sometimes you can even find these are not made right. Eating a bialy without the onions in the middle is pretty much a waste of your time. Toppings for bagels vary even more than the flavors. From plain old cream cheese, to whitefish salad, and even tofu cream cheese, bagel sandwiches are always fun to make and eat. Personally, I love to combine salty and sweet flavors, like a cinnamon raisin bagel with vegetable cream cheese, or pumpernickel with chicken salad. I don't know if it counts, but the Russ & Daughters unique version of a bagel sandwich has garnered a cult following, even allowing you to make it a "super heeb" by adding wasabi fish roe.

In a category all by itself is the epitome of how many picture a bagel, with lox, or for you non-Hebrews, smoked salmon. The combination of a great bagel, with cream cheese, good lox, onion and the optional tomato & capers is a sight to behold. I can't think of a better breakfast or brunch plate to put in front of someone. Of course, no Jewish family meal of bagels and lox is complete without the standard arguments about taking to much, should it be open faced or closed, or even the inevitable touching of the last piece with your hand so no one else wants it.

When your shopping for bagels in NY there are only three real options if you're not a tourist: H & H Bagels, Ess-A-Bagel and Absolute Bagels. Of the three I personally feel that Ess-A-Bagel is the best because it has the perfect texture and density that is often lacking from other bagel shops, and they still make them the way they always have for decades. Throw in a great selection of cream cheeses, an amazing white fish salad, and perhaps the best chicken salad on a bagel you can buy, and they are always at the top of any "best bagels list". Just don’t think you can walk right in at 10am on a Saturday and get a bagel. Generally there are lines almost out the door as hungover roommates and lifelong Stuyvesant Town denizens crowd the small downtown space. While you could go to the midtown spot, why not just go to the original to get that old world feel that emanates from the wood paneling?

A Real New York Breakfast


LairdNYC said...

A few comments:

- Au Bon Pain does not sell real bagels, you should be ashamed for even mentioning them.

- Lox is not the same as smoked salmon. The link you put in even says that: Although the term lox is sometimes applied to smoked salmon, that is a different product

- Bagels on the Square MUST be on the list of top bagel places, if not only for the fact that they are open 24/7, unlike the ones you list.

Just one more bite said...

I should point out:
1. I like the flavor concept of the aforementioned au bon pain bagel, but not the actual bagel

2. Ooops, either way it's delicious

3. This is about quality and flavor, not convenience. Last I checked most Dunkin Donuts are open 24 hours, does that mean they have some of the best tasting coffee?

LairdNYC said...

Fair enough, let me rephrase:

Bagels on the Square has the best bagels I've ever had in NY...although I've never been to Essa. But I will not sit here and let you say it's behind H&H and whatever Absolute Bagels is.

manweight said...

1)I have to agree that you should be ashamed for mentioning au bon pain bagels...
2) How could you possibly forget about murray's bagels? They are without a doubt the best bagels in nyc.