My bagel search was the most difficult journey so far. First off, bagels are best consumed early in the morning and I am very rarely up early in the morning. Secondly, on first bite, all the bagels seemed to taste the same. What do you say about boiled and baked bread? It tastes yeasty, bready, carby. How exciting are those adjectives?? And since I decided to use the plain (or everything) bagel as the specimen at each shop, it was really hard to detect a difference.
But I pushed through, consuming bagels as early as I could manage. The best bagel places, like Bagel Oasis and Bagel Boy (both located way out in the boroughs), bake their bagels throughout the day (many are even open 24 hours) so you can get a moderately hot bagel whenever you arrive. And the more bagels I ate, the bigger of a difference I discovered. Some were sweeter than others, some had a slight mineral finish, others were way too salty, there were small dense ones and large airy ones.
If you ask just about every New Yorker where their favorite bagel shops is, most likely it’s the one that’s closest to where they live. I think that’s because many bagel shops do cook the bagel properly (hand roll, rest, boil, and bake) and there’s nothing like getting a hot, fresh out-of-the-oven bagel to enjoy early in the morning.
That being said, I found some really extraordinary places quite a ways from my apartment in Astoria. I think Ess-a-Bagel does a great job with moderately sized bagels that have that perfect chewy to soft ratio. Murray’s Bagels has mastered their technique giving the bagels subtle, complex flavors and a perfect texture. You can get creative cream cheese flavors to pair with the big, soft and always fresh bagels at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company (which does not have a location in Brooklyn). And Terrace Bagels in Brooklyn bakes them big enough to use for a sandwich, but they still maintain that proper soft, chewy denseness.
But the most transcendent bagel experience I had was at Absolute Bagels, which is quite far from just about everybody (except maybe Columbia University students). I really loved their everything bagel which had the perfect balance of seasonings, but it was their famous egg bagel that was doughy and soft with the most amazing rich, decadent sweet flavors. It was the best bagel I tried on my entire journey.
Fortunately in New York, bagels are still true bagels and not just oversized “rolls with holes” that are often rolled by a machine, loaded with sugar, steamed, and sometimes frozen.
And there are hundreds of bagel shops in this city. So while I hit most of the major ones, there are still lots of carb bombs left to taste. Check the ratings here, but keep your eyes peeled for new bagel reviews in the future.