Let me address something important from the get go: Yes, it’s PROBABLY the water (and techniques) and yes, I feel more than comfortable stating that the bagels I’ve grown up eating in New York are leaps and bounds better than any I’ve experienced elsewhere. I enter this cycle of denial and blatant acceptance that goes for years on end. Sure, I am a person who eats bagels now and then in the Northwest, with some ups and downs and some homemade endeavors, but then I have one that disappoints me so much (and this was seriously a ‘boiled’ variety that prior to this summer’s NY stay, I thought I accepted) that I have to put it down, vegan butter and all. There is another much-touted bagel maker in town that I enjoy, but I think they have a lot of nerve calling themselves New York-style, based on size alone. The high point of this cycle is revisiting New York and experiencing that thick, ridiculously chewy bagel for the first time in however long. Walking into a bagel shop, it’s immediately clear that I should stop eating these outside state lines. I’m only setting myself up. I should show some respect.
Even while I consider myself an Earth Balance + avocado + nooch + sea salt type of girl these days, I still want that almost insanely heavy schmear of whipped tofu cream cheese goodness when I’m in New York. The bagel, keep it toasted, and make it sesame, poppy, or garlic or cinnamon raisin, if I’m feeling particularly fun. Salt, perhaps.
The amount of tofu spread (or cream cheese, or whatever else you order, for that matter) applied to bagels in New York is manic meets comical, but so appropriate…even if you find yourself wiping some away after the first two bites. I can’t explain that anymore.
Bagels were a consistent, cost-effective and totally filling part of my life until I moved to Portland (Fine, and those experimental years of soft Finagles and curiously tough Bruegger’s during my college years in Boston, where I’d smuggle in my own travel containers of Soy Garden. And then came Dunkin’s bagels. Ugh.) They remain a nostalgia-hitting highlight of my visits “home” and super budget-friendly, quick meal, where the tale of the lost arm at Bagel Boss in Bay Shore has been floating in my head since childhood. There’s never enough time and space for the bagels I want returned in my daily routine.
This stay, I seemed to make even more time for pizza (again, thanks water) and likewise for bagels, for sure, but it fell short. Try as I might, I can’t make up for lost bagel time.
There was this one afternoon a few weeks ago, where I hungrily walked into a bagel shop in Williamsburg for an early lunch, after forgetting about breakfast again. The old bagel routine came back to me: matter-of-factly ordering while twenty-somethings awkwardly stared at spreads, grabbing a Peach Snapple, contemplating the small cartons of Tropicana, and trying to figure out if I was in a time warp to my Little League Days. I had my meal on a curb nearby, and attempted peace with a tofu spread stuffed, sesame bagel and all those memories.
My favorite places to grab a bagel in NYC, based on convenience and habit ⸺ since I’m usually at my sister’s in Bushwick, of course ⸺ are The Bagel Store (my tops), Bagels on the Square in the West Village (where J. Legume and I grabbed our first meal as legal people in l-o-v-e), Little Skip’s Cafe, Swallow Cafe, Bagelsmith and Bread Brothers. I also happened to hit Bagel Talk while I was heading to Central Park.
NYC has such an amazing, diverse culinary, community scene, but jeez, if it isn’t the seemingly simple, iconic bagel I reflect on the most.
And writing this, contemplating what I truly dig about food in New York, I’m feeling the need for a pizza bagel, which isn’t going to happen anytime soon, since it’s just as easy for me to make pizza dough which I’m happier with than bagels, but I will live vicariously through J. Legume and hope she stops by (Little) Norbert’s for another vegan kale pizza bagel while she’s still in town. Go get it, girl.
Summer of bagels/never enough:
Toasted sesame, jalapeño tofu spread, Peach Snapple from The Bagel Store on Metropolitan Ave
Outside Little Skip’s, Bushwick
Bagel cam, Little Skip’s
There’s another Bagelsmith on Lorimer.
Bagels at my sister’s
This one was enjoyed on Staten Island. Earth Balance + nooch.
Bagel Talk, UWS
Tofu. Tofu. Tofu.
I forget if this was inside Bagel Talk or Bread Brothers, but the point is, between the glare and my need to order smoothly and noticing my faintly returned accent, I never get a good shot of these cases. No matter.
Behind this bike, which is locked to the train station fence by handcuffs, is a little bagel store in my Long Island home town.
Salt bagel, smuggled home
J. Legume picking up a pizza bagel & garlic knots at (Little) Norbert’s in Bushwick
They’re surprisingly open early for bagels, coffee & Champs’ muffins
Speaking of, I think the little little Champs is now my favorite.
Scrambled tofu + bagel + hot sauce, Champs on Ainslie (which I’m removing from my list, sorry)
In line for Shakespeare in the Park next to some really awful people. TGI-bagel.
Another in-the-water, plus my vial of coconut creamer (yep)
One of two bagels I brought back for myself. Pumpernickels for a dear friend.
Oh, and Tompkins Square Bagels were on my list for the mention of Earth Balance, but I simply didn’t have the time.
*Okay, there were a couple of other spots that legitimately offered tofu spreads and sorta decent bagels around Brookline and downtown Boston, fine.
And to think I started the cycle again within a week of returning. For shame.