By: Adam Erace
Purists are elevating this humble bread from the cartoon wheel it’s become into a thin, crispy treat that’s more than a cream-cheese conduit.
It was a Canadian who had the chutzpah to reinvent a New York staple. Noah Bernamoff grew up in Montreal, where bagels are hand-rolled and baked in a wood-fired oven, making them thin and crispy. When he moved to New York to open his deli, Mile End, he was displeased with most of the local options—fluffy monstrosities. “Bagels kind of suck in this country,” he says. So he got rolling on a hybrid that combines north-of-the-border cooking methods with a New York–style dough. Manhattanites, all reinventions themselves, have made his creation their own, flocking to Black Seed since Bernamoff opened it in April.
The Big Apple bagel was a big, round target. For the past decade, chefs have fetishized pizza, burgers, tacos, and ramen to the point of absurdity (who’d have thought we’d stand in line for a bastardized doughnut?), and it was inevitable they’d get to other “plebeian staples,” says Robert Sietsema, a food critic for Eater. But that’s not a bad thing, because we get to eat better bagels—all riffs on preindustrialized versions—and not just in New York. At High Street on Market in Philadelphia, Alex Bois rolls his dough tight for density and chew. In Atlanta, Anthony Genovese rests his dough so it rises; “the slow ferment brings out the flavor,” he says. And in Portland, Oregon, Mark Doxtader’s Tastebud uses flours Washington State University’s “bread lab” introduced him to—they’re “sweet, nutty, smoky, creamy, bitter,” he says.
Of course, for all the innovations, old-school standards don’t die easily. “Someone came in and ordered chipotle cream cheese on a cinnamon-raisin bagel,” says Bernamoff. “That’s not a legit bagel flavor. And if you want a chipotle thing, there’s a great taco shop down the street.”
New York City
Bernamoff says that in Canada, bromated flour is used in the dough because it’s a good leavening agent. But it’s frowned on here; California labels it a carcinogen. (The U.K. bans it.)
The General Muir
Genovese cooked at the acclaimed Daniel before heading to The General Muir. His “peasant-style” bagels are chewier and crustier than those he grew up with in New Jersey. “They’re old-world.”
The traditional Montreal method calls for boiling bagels in honey water, but Doxtader’s 40-seat space, opening this fall, will use malt syrup to keep the recipe vegan-friendly.
High Street on Market
Bois’ everything bagel is dipped in the usual suspects (like sesame, poppy, and caraway seeds, garlic, onion, and salt), plus one you wouldn’t expect: fennel seeds, which add an anise flavor.
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Photos by Victor Prado.
Storefront photos: From top, courtesy of Coffee & Champagne; by Andrew Thomas Lee; courtesy of Tastebud Farm; by Jason Varney.