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.