Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bagel Wars

New York City has never been short on bagels.  At least not since the early 1900s, when the International Bagel Bakers Local 338 was formed. Hundreds of bagel bakeries existed - my paternal great-grandfather was a bagel baker in the Bronx - as a matter of fact, he and my great-grandmother are buried in the Bronx Baker's Mutual Aid Society plot at a cemetery in Springfield Gardens, Queens. (I also have a seltzer-man in my background, who sold seltzer off of a horse-drawn cart, but that's another story).  Of course, hundreds of bagel bakers and bakeries meant that there eventually were competing unions, non-union shops, strikes, strife, walkouts, lockouts and all that good stuff that comes along with a good product, the labor that it takes to make a good product...and ownership. Socialism aside (and Socialism is what was behind those early labor unions and why they were important), along came Harry Lender, who basically screwed the pooch, by first mass-producing bagels (with a machine he bought, but didn't invent) and then by perfecting the slicing and freezing of his mass-produced bagel.

Eventually, all hell broke loose, bagels grew to ginormous size, and whoever first put a blueberry into a bagel should get 30 smacks with a stale bialy. When I moved to California (a long time ago), I was sad and missed bagels (and don't get me started on pizza); that is, until I found a bagel place where they actually made bagels the old-fashioned way - hand-rolled, boiled and baked - in San Jo freakin' se. I patronized them for years until I moved back to New York...the land of the giant bagel (I'm looking at you, you decrepit, old, morally, spiritually and physically bankrupt H&H) - the better to make a sandwich on - something a bagel was never meant to do, in my opinion; that's what sliced bread, baguettes, rolls, lettuce leaves (please) and god-knows-what are all for - NOT BAGELS!  

Fast forward to 2014 and within the last three months, two brand-new bagel places have opened (and I think there's another on the way).  Both claim to hand-roll, boil and then bake their bagels the old-fashioned way - even if one is Montreal style, and boils in honey water and bakes in a wood-fueled oven, and blah blah blah (I imagine old Harry is spinning in his grave about now). So, what better way to spend some time, with Significant Eater available as a taster, than by trying these two new offerings?

Let's first take a look at the products side by side. Hmmm.....

I detect some ginormity in the Baz bagel, as well as a rather generous hand with the toppings...

When put on a scale, the Baz bagel weighed anywhere from 2 - 3 ounces more than the Black Seed bagel - which was right in the ballpark of what a real bagel should weigh (just under 3 ounces). Here's an interior view for perspective...
But really, it's all about taste, isn't it?  And to be honest, to really taste-test a bagel, they should be eaten fresh - not the next day, not frozen, not whatever, but because of time constraints, I had to use the toaster.  One half of each bagel was cream cheesed, and one half was buttered...
The far-from-final analysis gave us a clear-cut favorite.  The density, the weight, the crustiness and the taste of the Black Seed bagel did it for us...though Sig Eater did note that they were a bit sweet from their honey-water dip. The wood-burning smoke is evident while the bagels are still in their bag, but not really so much in the finished product.  And the Baz bagel, which had a nice flavor, just did not have enough crust-to-crumb ratio for's sandwich sized. Additionally, and don't tell Sig Eater, I tasted the bagels before they were toasted - and liked Black Seed's more that way as well.

Oh - one little thing - I still prefer the minis that Russ & Daughters sells - they're specially made for R & D by the Bagel Hole in Park Slope, and they're my favorite.  You can't make a sandwich on them, and why would you?  Bagels were always meant to be enjoyed, a half at a time, with a schmear and a bit of lox.

So don't worry, great-grandpa Harry.  Someone will get it right one of these days.


  1. Hi Mitch... I think we at Bageladies in Virginia got it! Your great-grandpa Harry would be pleased. How do I know?

    First, Willard Scott (that great NYC weatherman from NBC) claimed Bake'mmm Bagels to be "One of the top 10 NY bagels in the Country."

    Second, the Baking Industry gave Bake'mmm Bagels and Innovation Award; and

    Third, a granddaughter of one of the founding members of the International Bagel Bakers Union was so excited that Bake'mmm Bagels were, "just like the bagels her grandfather made!"

    Maybe she's a relative of yours? I was doing a demo at the Whole Foods in Falls Church, VA a few years ago and a woman breezed by, grabbing a sample as she passed. She returned a bit later to tell me about her grandfather and the Bagel Union from the early 1900s. She said, "people don't make them like this anymore."

    Suggest you look us up! Bageladies Bake'mmm Bagels in Virginia. You can order online.

  2. A good usual

  3. whats the name of the joint in San Jose?

  4. dr. popper - that was over 20 years ago!

  5. Nice piece Mitch. Without tasting I would have gone for the Black Seed. Ginormous just doesn't work for the bagel arena!