The rainbow bagel is the Bagel Store’s signature creation. (Photo: Gillie Houston for Yahoo Food)
Picasso made paintings, Michelangelo made sculptures, and Scot Rossillo makes bagels. The self-proclaimed “World’s Premier Bagel Artist” has been crafting his gluten-filled mini masterpieces since 2000 at the Bagel Store, in Brooklyn, working with a canvas of flour, yeast, and water. However, it wasn’t until recently that one of Rossillo’s creations made it big: the Rainbow Bagel.
The first place I came across this technicolored baked good was on Instagram. It was smeared with speckled cream cheese and hoisted in the air like an edible trophy, guaranteed to draw in likes and astonished comments. Soon, foodies everywhere wanted a piece of this insta-gold, and my feed was filled with rainbow bagels tracked down by the trendiest of NYC eaters. So I went to investigate: Just what were these brightly dyed creations — and more importantly, how did they taste?
I visited one of the Bagel Store’s two locations early one morning, eager to see the rainbow bagel up close and personal, and perhaps get a glimpse of Rossillo himself, whose gaudy, vibrant website — which has since gotten a sleeker redesign — I had explored at length the night before. I expected a line, but it was early enough on a weekday that I cruised right in, past a sign plastered in the window: “Because Rainbow Bagels Are Antioxidants For the Soul” with a rainbow clip-art smiley face. Though Rossillo didn’t appear to be there, there was a bevy of similarly large, muscly bagel-wielding men with heavy Brooklyn accents looking decidedly less cheerful than the colorful face in the window. When I ordered a half-dozen of the bagels and asked what cream cheese went with them best, three gruff voices huffed in unison: “Funfetti.”
I throw my bagel in the air like I just don’t care. (Photo: Gillie Houston for Yahoo Food)
I asked for one slathered with the colorful cream cheese in order to hoist it up outside the store, one half layered on the other, as I had seen countless times in pictures, self conscious of my quickly dwindling street cred as people walked past me, casting stares. I took one bite and was hit with a heady shock of sugar with hints of blueberry and decided I definitely needed a strong, black coffee to accompany it.
The bagels themselves are more vibrant in real life than a picture could ever convey. Sliced open, the vivid dough looks artificial and slightly off-putting to a first timer. This, partnered with its buttery sheen, which gives the appearance of a hard candy shell, makes the rainbow bagel look like a ceramic sculpture rather than the real thing. As I laid the bagels out to take a picture, countless coworkers stopped and gawked, asking, perplexed, “What is it … ?”
The flavor itself is at first sickly sweet, but admittedly intoxicating, like a bowl of your favorite rainbow-colored childhood cereal topped with a slice of birthday cake (aka every kid’s wildest dream). Though the dough is just subtly sweet and takes on an artificial, Fruity Pebble-like blueberry flavor, the real sugar shock comes courtesy of the Funfetti cream cheese. The Bagel Store concocts the special spread by folding sprinkle-filled cake into a sweet cream cheese, making for a sinfully good taste and an odd speckled texture, which one of my coworkers could best liken to cottage cheese.
Most rainbow bagels come adorned with Funfetti or blueberry cream cheese. (Photo: PickyPalate via Instagram)
Before being cut and rolled into rounds, the dough is pure saturation, streaked through with blue and pink and yellow, giving the appearance of a child’s Play-Doh project, smashed together with colors bleeding into one another.
“The bagel industry is very mundane … and I’m not a basic kind of person, so I took it to a different level,” Rossillo says in a recent Gothamist-produced video. The 49-year-old, who grew up behind a bagel shop in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and worked there as a kid, began making his rainbow bagels as a hobby long before he had his own retail operation. And while the Bagel Store has carried the colorful creation for years, it wasn’t until recently that they took off, thanks in no small part to Instagram. Now, the Bagel Store’s account, which has garnered 40K followers, is a constant regramming machine, sharing their fans’ rainbow bagel-heavy pictures, globs of the colorful cream cheese concentrated at the center.
“It’s a passion of love, not a passion of profit,” says Rossillo, who spends around five hours making 100-200 of the artistic bagels — the same amount of time to produce thousands of standard bagels. However, this time-consuming process has paid off, as these edible artworks have put the Bagel Store on the map as a destination for camera-wielding foodies everywhere.
The rainbow bagel: Fashionable foodies’ new accessory of choice. (Photo: avecnewyork via Instagram)
Though Rossillo has found mild social success with some of his other specialty creations, including a French toast bagel and the “Cragel,” a hybrid between a croissant and bagel that surely hoped to mirror the success of Dominique Ansel’s wildly popular Cronut, nothing has been as successful as his most eye-popping and radiant creation.
At $3.95 a piece before the cream cheese, the rainbow bagel’s not a bad deal, though its appeal is more novelty than flavor. While I’ll admit I couldn’t stop eating it once I began, hooked and sugar-high like a baby taking her first mind-boggling taste of birthday cake, it definitely isn’t something I could eat regularly, and definitely not in the morning.
Still, when I posted my Instagram of the psychedelic rings, the likes began to climb and the captions were quickly filled with people tagging their friends, demanding they make a trip out to Brooklyn to buy this brilliant bread for themselves.
Rainbow bagels can be purchased and shipped nationally via the Bagel Store’s online store.