NYC bagel mavens are boiling mad and ready to throw down some dough. The cause of their outrage? A recent New York Times article claiming that “the best bagels are in California.”
“I am personally peeved. If California wants to go head-to-head with me, I am ready,” said Brooklyn-raised bagel-man Scot Rossillo, 55, owner of Park Slope’s the Bagel Store.
Rossillo says the Big Apple’s bagel superiority goes beyond New York’s famously soft water, which weakens gluten and increases chewiness.
“The water is important, but it can be mimicked around the world,” Rossillo told The Post. “It comes down to the love that we have for our bagels.”
Rossillo, who grew up behind Bake City Bagels in Gravesend, notes he is the recipient of training that “goes back at least 100 years. This is not good fun; bagels are my life.”
California upstarts may be throwing their hat in the (carb-filled) ring, but even West Coast residents aren’t buying it, say shopkeepers at Manhattan stalwarts Zabar’s and Ess-a-Bagel.
“Every day we ship hundreds of bagels to California,” Ess-a-Bagel COO Melanie Frost, whose aunt started the family-run business in 1976, told The Post. Bagels at the store, which has three Manhattan outposts, are hand-rolled and baked on the premises daily.
“They can’t come close to a New York bagel — crunch on the outside, chewy on the inside,” Frost added.
“California, stick to the avocado toast. You know that best.”
Scott Goldshine, 60, a 43-year veteran of Zabar’s, also sees a westward migration of his wares: “We ship bagels to LA but I have not yet heard of LA shipping bagels to us. There’s nothing like a New York bagel.”
True though that may be, at least one bagel expert takes a more measured approach. He is happy to see knowledge and taste spreading like velvety cream cheese.
“I think it’s about time,” said Adam Pomerantz, 53, owner of Murray’s Bagels and Leo’s bagels. “For years and years you could not get a decent bagel outside of New York. Looking at the pictures, they have a nice shine, a nice crust. They look good to me. I think it will be nice for us Jewish New Yorkers to be able to get quality bagels – our soul food — outside of the city.”
Does he think that the Big Apple should relinquish its bagel crown?
“Definitely not,” said Pomerantz. “New York City and bagels go together. There is a special experience of getting a bagel in New York City.”
The lineage, after all, is deep. According to “The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread” by Maria Balinska, our preferred vessel for salmon-and-a-schmear possibly emigrated from Germany to Poland as pretzels in the 14th century. Once there, they evolved into the center-holed approximation of a modern-day bagel. Eastern European Jews brought them to lower Manhattan during the great migration of the 19th century.
While rainbow and everything bagels are modern interpretations, the best ones are still hand-rolled into doughy Os by our city’s arrivistes. And, maybe, some of the magic derives from that.
“We have one immigrant community after the next passing the torch and picking up this esoteric skill,” said Peter Shelsky, 42, co-owner of Shelsky’s Brooklyn Bagels. “It was recently Philippine immigrants and then the Thai population. Now there are Mexican rollers.”
As for the claim of left-coast bagel superiority, Shelsky is not breaking a sweat: “A friend of mine from the Bay Area texted me the link and he wrote, ‘You see this?’ I responded, ‘LOL. Bulls–t.’
“My first reaction was just that. Now I’m acknowledging that one or two places [in California] might do a reasonable job. But, over all, it’s like the Vatican making good matzoh ball soup.”
Added Shelsky’s business partner, the 44-year-old Lewis Spada: “To say that they hold weight to a New York bagel? That is ridiculous.”
— additional reporting by Tamara Beckwith and Suzy Weiss