Where is the artisan bagel movement in NYC?

Moving to New York, I was excited about two things: pizza and bagels.

Pizza did not disappoint. NYC’s pizza landscape is rich, and has become richer over the last decade. There are overlapping ecosystems for dollar slice joints, traditional slice joints, and hybrid slice/Italian food joints. There’s a stratum of old school NY pizza restaurants: Totonno’s, Arturo’s, Sam’s, etc, as well as the newer places that aspire to a similar aesthetic. And there’s whole class of artisinal, neo-Neopolitan places, where foodies shell out big bucks for bufala. You could eat pizza every day and never hit every place.

The bagel landscape is perhaps equally complex. But it’s bottom-heavy in comparison to pizza. You’ve got the guys in the silver street carts who sell bagels pre-filled with a slice of cream cheese wrapped in wax paper. There’s the bullshit bakery chains, the Panara-Dunkin-ecticut-n-crustys where bagels are an afterthought to other baked goods. And then there are the mainstays, the neighborhood bagel shops. Like neighborhood slice joints, the quality of this category varies widely, from shoulda-had-a-Lenders to the Bagel Hole (the only really outstanding bagel I’ve ever had, in NY or elsewhere).

But where are the artisan bagels? Dom Demarco has people lining up for $5 slices at Di Fara. There’s gotta be a similar market for someone to sell outstanding bagels – small, properly boiled, without preservatives – even if they charge a premium for them. I get that it’s not glamorous: stirring a pot full of boiling bageloids in a dingy kitchen doesn’t have the sex appeal of wielding a peel in candlelit Lucali. And I get that bagel-place-as-destination is hard to fit into the geography and the late-night culture of New York. At the same time, a great bagel can be just as fantastic as a great slice, and IMHO is just as important a part of NY food culture. Where are the hipsters lining up to continue this particular foodways tradition?

Maybe I’m way off here, and there is actually a bagel subculture in NYC that I’ve never stumbled on. I hope someone’ll clue me in.

9 thoughts on “Where is the artisan bagel movement in NYC?

  1. Alan Levine

    In 2006 I went to a conference in NYC with a colleague who grew up in the east side; Rick took me to his favorite bagel place where you had to be there at midnight to get them fresh? No idea what the name was or where it was (I was going to add that it was ‘near a diner’ but that is useless).

    I tried both the famous bagel places in Montreal (Fairmont and … Oi I forgot the French named place) warm and fresh was nice but I found then not so tasty. But Schartz’s deli… That was the real deal.

    Keep on searching! I’m waiting on your BBQ guidebook

  2. Luke

    Mmm… Smoked meat sandwich from Shwartz in Montreal.

    I would put Kosher Bagels Supreme around the corner from my house in NJ up against any bagel in the world. Might help that I’m usually eating the bagel within an hour of it being taken out of the oven.

    1. Boone Gorges

      Any bagel that is edible more than 30 minutes after coming out of the oven is arguably not worth eating in the first place. To make them last, they’ve gotta make them big and fluffy and full of god-knows-what stabilizers. The kinds of bagels I find to be really excellent are the ones that are like shoe leather after 20 minutes.

    1. Boone Gorges Post author

      Erik – Good call on Bagelsmith. I’ve generally preferred the Bagel Store further down Bedford. But both Bagelsmith and the Bagel Store are examples of the kinds of places I’d expect to see more of: relatively new bagel joints, run by fairly young people, at non-rock-bottom prices, serving bagels prepared in a traditional way. I only wish there were a couple of places like this in every neighborhood (though I understand why they’d appear and thrive in Williamsburg).

  3. Eric (@ericandrewlewis)

    There’s craving and fulfillment going on in these line-forming food spots. I’d imagine that payoff is either in terms of ritual, the cultural palate, or some “basic” physical pleasure response.

    I desire pizza – there’s some physical pleasure in the taste – the grease or the cheese, there’s something in there that makes people “happy.” However, it may be hard to unstick what is “basic” and a cultural palate.

    I do like bagels. Although I may have more to experience (I’ve gone op to Bagelsmith on the bagel pyramid), bagels don’t hit high in any of these three categories for me. They’re tasty, but not something to die for. The ritual surrounding them is utilitarian and premeditated.

    It’d be interesting to take a look at some of these line-forming culinary institutions and see what all the fuss is about – is there a guaranteed pleasure response? Is it just cultural? Ritualistic?

    1. Boone Gorges

      Eric – Yeah, you’re onto a good point here. I think there’s more of a market for high-end pizza because pizza seems more like something crave-worthy. But I’d also suggest that at least part of the reason why your pizza craves exist is because the pizza scene is so robust. That is: if you’d been exposed to more high-quality bagels, maybe you’d crave them like you do pizza.

      As for the ritual and cultural aspects: I think that here the bagel is actually fairly similar to the pizza. Working class food sold by immigrants in humble spots around the city. It’s only because pizza is so popular that the fancier pizza “experiences” exit – those that are less “utilitarian” than the humble slice joint. Granted, it’s hard to imagine what a white-tablecloth bagel experience would look like. But I think that there’s space for destination-worthy bagel experiences. For a parallel in Jewish-American food, look at a place like Katz’s Delicatessen.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *