A few years ago I wrote a two-part feature for the Art of Eating on where to eat in New York City. As part of my research I decided to try to find my favorite bagels in Manhattan. This was an arduous task because every time I’d stumble on a contender, I’d have to gather all of my other favorites to make an accurate taste comparison. In the end I settled on the dense, chewy, salty bagels with a crisp crust at the glatt kosher La Bagel on 1st Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets. At the time I was living in Chelsea and I had to travel across town every time I wanted my favorite “donuts dipped in cement,” as my grandfather used to call Big Apple bagels.
Then one day, the old-school, everything-you-need-is-somewhere-in-here hardware store around the corner from my West 24th Street apartment morphed into a one-off bagel shop with the dubious name Brooklyn Bagels & Coffee Company (286 8th Avenue at 24th Street) and a clumsy logo that included an illustration of bagels being shaped by hand. I was suspect at first because they seemed to be trying so hard. The shop was modern but nondescript, without half the charm of the Murray’s Bagels shop around the corner, whose undersalted bagels I didn’t care for. But it didn’t take long for me to grow to appreciate the bagels at Brooklyn Bagel. Like my La Bagel faves, they were dense and chewy with just the right amount of salt and a shiny, crisp crust. Unlike Murray’s, Brooklyn Bagel’s bagels were properly proofed so the dough didn’t taste raw or seem undeveloped.
What’s more, Brooklyn Bagels offers all of their bagel varieties in “mini” versions, that is, the size of normal bagels before some bagel business person decided there was better perceived value in a steroid-pumped toroid. Rest assured, this is a maxi mini (or does that sound too much like a feminine protection product?), and with a schmear of cream cheese, one of these minis is a filling meal. My taste preferences waffle between Brooklyn’s everything bagels and pumpernickel bagels. But lately I’ve come down on the side of pumpernickel. At Brooklyn Bagels, the pumpernickel is a deep, dark color with a faint caraway flavor. The pumpernickel bagels are particularly, jaw-achingly chewy, which I love.
Incidentally, last summer I moved in with my partner in the East Village, a short block away from La Bagel—which was part of the appeal of our cohabitation. But one morning late last year while I waited for someone to take my breakfast order I noticed something was different. Although the sign outside still said “La Bagel,” the baked goods inside were labeled “Bagel Boss.” Sure enough, I learned the shop had been sold to the Long Island bagel chain, and over the next few weeks the signs, the display cases, and the decor began to change. Gone were the murals of Paris. The new decor was an improvement. But the bagels have never been the same. So now I still have to travel across town to get my favorite bagels, only now I go from east to west.