Seeing as they’re one of New York’s signature foodstuffs, we tend to take great bagels for granted, from the oversized, sesame seed-flecked frisbees at Ess-A-Bagel outposts throughout Manhattan to the compact, highly burnished orbs at Bagel Hole in Brooklyn. But lately, a growing crew of young, hip chefs and shop owners have revived interest in the iconic breakfast item, elevating bagels to so much more than doughy calorie bombs, topped with basic, cream cheese schmears.
Take the hugely popular new shop, Black Seed in Nolita, co-owned by Mile End’s Noah Bernamoff (who already has a proven track record of modernizing classic, Jewish deli fare). A hybrid of Montreal and New York-style bagels, Black Seed starts with hand-rolled, yeast-raised dough, which gets boiled in honey water (à la Montreal) and baked in a wood-burning oven. But what really takes these bagels over the top are the super refined spreads, like Housemade Cream cheese, Herbed Tofu, Almond Butter and Tobiko Caviar, along with ‘Signature Sandwiches,’ such as an assemblage of Beet-cured Salmon, Horseradish Cream Cheese, Candy Cane Radishes and Herbs.
Since Russ & Daughters is one of New York’s landmark appetizing shops, you wouldn’t expect to see it on a roundup of city trendsetters. And yet, the 100-year-old store expanded with a brand new café this spring, incorporating their incomparable smoked fish into all sorts of inventive salads and egg dishes, and re-imagining their traditional bagel sandwiches as elegant, composed boards. So in addition to their ‘Classic’ combination of Gaspe Nova and Cream Cheese, customers can nosh on a bialy or bagel plated with Sturgeon and Butter, Smoked Sable and Goat Cream Cheese, and Kippered (baked) Salmon, served with slices of tomato and dotted with briny Capers.
If seriously buzzworthy spots like Black Seed and Russ & Daughter’s Café hadn’t just debuted, the opening of Baz Bagel and Restaurant would have been an even bigger deal, especially since it’s a joint project between a Rubirosa vet and a Barney Greengrass alum (talk about delicatessen cred)! The 35-seat eatery specializes in traditional, freshly rolled, kettle boiled bagels, served as sandwiches or in platters, and paired with Whipped Caviar Cream Cheese, House-cured Gravlax, Whitefish, Chopped Liver, Egg Salad and more. And while Einat Admony’s newest hotspot, Bar Bolonat, is far from being a grab-and-go breakfast joint, her chewy, Jerusalem Bagel happens to be one of the most appetizing items on the menu. So before you dive into a Middle Eastern feast of Fried Chickpeas, Lamb Tagine, Yemenite Curry and Kibbe, be sure to order the oblong, sesame-crusted Bagel as your bread course, served with a tiny crock of emerald green Olive Oil, and paper packet of zesty Zaatar spice for dipping.
So what’s an outer borough resident to do, if they have a craving for cut-above bagels and homemade schmears? Well, the motto at Shelsky’s is “Stop Your Schlepping,” meaning Brooklynites no longer need to make a pilgrimage to the Lower East Side for a smoked fish fix. And while it’s possible to go an entirely traditional route (owner Peter Shelsky is a New York native, after all), with Kossar’s bagels and Belly Lox, he’s also a highly creative chef. Which means the menu is dotted with a number of tongue-in-cheek sandwiches, like “The Tribute,” with Door County Smoked Whitefish Salad and Wasabi Tobiko, and “El Vincente,” filled with Lake Sturgeon, fresh Jalapenos and Heirloom Tomato, as well as an assortment of “Bentowitz Boxes;” a compartmentalized selection of salads, spreads and pickles, accompanied by a crusty bagel or onion-scented bialy.
And we have a feeling New York’s revitalized obsession with bagels is only just beginning. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming, contemporary version of Barney Greengrass starring the Torrisi team, with undoubtedly delicious, poppy, sesame, and ‘everything’-dusted creations from Per Se and Roberta’s vet, Melissa Weller!
170 Elizabeth St., btwn. Spring and Kenmare Sts.
Russ and Daughters Café
127 Orchard St., btwn. Rivington and Delancey Sts.
Baz Bagel and Restaurant
181 Grand St., btwn. Baxter St and Centre Market Pl.
611 Hudson St., btwn. Jane and 12th Sts.
141 Court St., btwn. Atlantic Ave. and Pacific St.