Bagel-binging in New York City

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Hunting for the best bagels the Big Apple has to offer

Finding the perfect bagel in New York City is a bit like polling opinions about music: everyone has a fave. My ideal: firm and slightly crunchy crust, dense but chewy insides, and nothing but a slit where the hole should be.

 

 

 

This perspective is based on years of carbo-loading; as a kid growing up in the suburbs of the Big Apple, bagels were as much a part of my life as Debbie Gibson and pick-up basketball. Later, as a resident of NYC, I spent years in search of the No. 1 bagel. Here, in no particular order, are my top places to get your nosh on the next time you visit. 

 

Barney Greengrass

 

This circa-1908 Upper West Side restaurant bills itself as “The Sturgeon King,” but bagels here are no afterthought. I like them because they’ve got crust that’s sturdy enough to support the heft of smoked fish and all the trimmings. When I go, I order the pastrami salmon appetizer, a dish that comes with a serving of smoked salmon cured like pastrami, a bagel, a smear of cream cheese, and a plate of accoutrements such as onion, lettuce, and tomato. Assembled as a sandwich, the combination is, to me, New York on a plate. That’s why every trip home starts here.

 

 

 

 Ess-A-Bagel

 

This Manhattan chain (with locations on First and Third avenues near Stuyvesant Town) boasts that its bagels are the biggest in the city, and, quite frankly, they might be – some of them rise higher than an average hamburger bun with the hamburger inside. You don’t visit E-A-B for the ambiance; you go to order a baker’s dozen and a half-pound of cream cheese, then head to Central Park for a picnic lunch. I dare you to eat more than two.

 

Viewfinder Tip: Most schmears of cream cheese in New York include enough for two bagels; if you think you’ll want seconds, order No. 2 plain and “spread” the love.

 

Absolute Bagels

 

Especially on weekends, ravenous Upper West Siders line up for 30 minutes to grab a sack of hot-and-crusties from this hole-in-the-wall deli. Because it’s is so small, the family that runs the place is cooking bagels constantly. Once you’ve waited patiently for your turn to order, be sure to peer over the counter to watch the dough balls boiling in giant vats (before they’re baked).

 

 

 

Bagel Hole

 

This Park Slope icon is the only borough bagel shop on my list (it’s in Brooklyn), and it’s here for good reasons. Chefs often cook up miniature versions of the real deal for customers with smaller appetites. What’s more, the big bagels made here actually find their way into many of the most respected restaurants around the city – the Bagel Hole proudly supplies Russ & Daughters, a Lower East Side Jewish deli that has become an institution.

 

 

 

It’s worth noting that New York City also is a great place to find bialys – small rolls that have centers filled with minced onions or garlic. These puppies are too savory for my tastes, but I know plenty of people from older generations who actually prefer them to bagels. Their pick for the best bialys: Kossar’s, on the Lower East Side.

 

 

 

My advice: so long as you don’t have a gluten allergy, indulge. Bagels are a big part of foodie culture in New York, and the best way to experience that culture is to take a bite.

 

 

 

What are some of the tastiest foods you’ve sampled while traveling?

 

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Matt Villano

In more than 20 years as a professional journalist, Matt Villano has had articles published in outlets including TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, Coastal Living, and Entrepreneur, to name a few. He currently blogs about family travel at WanderingPod.com, and occasionally covers family travel for Family Fun and Scholastic Parent & Child magazines. Villano also wrote the family travel blog for Parenting magazine, and an adventure travel blog for SeeAmerica.com (a one-time website of Brand USA). In addition to travel, Villano’s areas of expertise are business, technology and gambling. When he’s not working at his stand-up desk, Villano is chasing after his three daughters, both of whom are future New York Yankees fans. His favorite destination on Earth is his (adopted) hometown of Healdsburg, California. No. 2 on the list: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (specifically Tofino). For more about Villano, visit Whalehead.com.

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