My Favorite Bagel

For those of you who are familiar with bagels, this could be a very divisive post: New York City vs. Montreal. But this is no simple battle of H&H vs. St-Viateur (each city’s most famous bagel maker, respectively), nor is my very favorite bagel from either of those two places. Unfortunately, it’s not from Zürich either, where I live. So on my transatlantic travels, I often bring back bags of bagels in my suitcase. Into the freezer pre-sliced (a must), they toast perfectly and taste almost like fresh. So where do I go for the best bagel ? Great Neck.

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Great Neck, Long Island, in New York.  If you know Great Neck, you’re picturing upwards of 20 bagel shops in this relatively small town.  And while I can’t say I have tasted bagels from them all, I still have a favorite.  The Bagel Hut, where my family has been getting bagels since they opened, the year my parents were married (1969).

What is a bagel ?  A round, thick, hand-rolled bread with a hole in the center, its origins in Eastern Europe.  (The first mentions were apparently of bajgiels in Poland and bubliki in Russia.)  Food historians show street vendors holding dozens of these ring shaped breads on long sticks, practical for selling and transporting.  Jewish immigrants brought them to North America in the early 18th century, but they didn’t become wildly popular until the late 20th century.

There are two schools of thought regarding bagels.  New York bagels have a signature chew and flavor and a smooth shine thanks to the dough being boiled in water (after a long phase of “proofing”) before baking in a standard oven.  The ingredients include only flour, water, yeast, malt and salt.  Montreal bagels, on the other hand, use sugar and eggs; no salt.  Smaller, lighter, sweeter and with a larger hole, these are boiled in honey-sweetened water before baking in a wood-fired oven, giving them an irregularly charred surface.  Despite my crazy sweet tooth, I’m partial to the New York style bagels of my childhood and have rather high standards for what a good bagel is (harder to find than you may think).

Has anyone tasted both ?  If so, which style do you prefer ?

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As is the case with cupcakes and macarons, there is no limit to flavor combinations in bagels nowadays… fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective.  I say, leave the blueberries to muffins and the garlic to well, garlic bread.  Bagels can be plain, sesame or everything (with all those seeds that get stuck in your teeth), pumpernickel or even cinnamon raisin.  I’m a big fan of mini bagels too, with more of that extra chewy crust.   And they’re also just so cute, if not always easy to find.  Best of all, a family favorite: twists.  Long pieces of braided bagel dough that we always passed around the table, pulling off pieces like monkey bread.  Great vehicle for cream cheese.

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Growing up, Sunday breakfast invariably meant bagels and lox, the New York Times for my parents and Newsday comics for us kids. Sliced plain bagels were topped with Temptee whipped cream cheese, cucumber, onion and tomato.  On more special occasions, it wouldn’t be just smoked salmon (lox), but also whitefish, kippered salmon (my favorite), sable and herring.  We were simply following in the footsteps of my grandparents, who used to walk to Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side of New York City as children and eat all of these delicacies.

While my mom has memories of my grandfather bringing home fresh rye bread every Sunday morning, I’ll always remember taking the brown paper bag from my dad as he got home, and feeling the warmth of fresh bagels inside and smelling that distinct aroma. So maybe it’s not just the twisted dough or the Great Neck water, but a bit of nostalgia that makes the bagels at the Bagel Hut so good.  Whatever it is, I’ll take mine with a schmear.

Bagel Hut
503 Middle Neck Road
Great Neck, NY 11023
USA
www.bagelhut.net

Bagel links:
The Best Bagels in New York City by CBS Best of NY
The Great Bagel War: East Coast vs. West Coast Bagels on Thirty Mile Zone TV
What Makes New York Bagels so good – it’s not the water says the Village Voice
NY vs. Montreal: Mayssam Samaha gives us the hard facts
The Bagel War of Montreal: St-Viateur vs. Fairmount

BYOB (Bake your own bagels):
Peter Reinhart’s bagels by Smitten Kitchen
A dozen simple bagels by King Arthur Flour
Michael Ruhlman says homemade bagels are a breeze !
Claudia Roden’s recipe on My Jewish Learning

* Zürich bagels: anyone try them from The Swiss Bagel Bakery ?

21 Responses to “My Favorite Bagel”

  1. Jenn says:

    i’m thinking a bagel shop in zurich might be a great idea…no?

  2. Lora says:

    There was much schlepping of bagels back to Germany over the 10 years I lived there. I can relate. I too grew up on LI and remember the comforting childhood memory of the warm feel and delicious smell of that bag of bagels.

  3. mayssam @ Will Travel for Food says:

    Ah yes, the great bagel debate 🙂 I have tasted both the NY ones (H&H) and the Montreal ones and I am partial to the less doughy, sweeter Montreal bagel from Fairmount bagels (not St Viateur). But now I really want to try your favourites and the mini ones too!

  4. Samantha Angela says:

    I’ve never had a bagel from New York, but I’m partial to the New York style over Montreal style. I like my bagel slightly sweet but mostly doughy and chewy. Montreal bagels just don’t cut it for me. I don’t see what all the hype is about.

  5. Kerrin says:

    Jenn, a bagel shop in Zürich ? I would have so much more room in my suitcase coming back from New York then ! =)

    Lora, we definitely have a lot in common !

    mayssam, I was hoping to hear from you on this important matter ! And you chose bagels from Montreal ? Really ? Over your other love… New York City ?! 😉

    Samantha, I’m with you – but I’m sure people in Montreal would beg to differ… 😉

  6. Meister @ The Nervous Cook says:

    There is nothing — absolutely nothing in the entire world — like that sensation on a Sunday morning of feeling warm, fresh bagels through the paper bag, and that incredible smell wafting through the kitchen, over the coffee as it perked. My best friend’s family was a fresh-bagels-and-lox lot every weekend, and it was such an extreme treat to sleepover her house Saturday night to wake up for this ritual.

    Oh my G-d, seriously, I am practically floating out of my skin with this sense memory you just brought to life here. Sigh…

  7. wandering educators says:

    i LOVE bagels. in the midwest, we go for bruegger’s bagels. yum!

  8. Jen Laceda says:

    I’ve tried both St. Viateur and Fairmount bagels from Montreal. I prefer St. Viateur. To me, it’s more dense (the way I like it). But both are fairly excellent 🙂

  9. Sam Sidney says:

    Uch… how depressing! We don’t have a single good bagel, I think in the entire state of South Carolina! Those look delicious, especially the braided everythings! Yum…

    Although, in attempts to look normal again, post baby, I am glad there are no bagels to be found. Even though I wouldn’t mind a braided one at the Feldman house w/ a shmear!

    xo.

  10. Kerrin says:

    Meister, wow. I am loving your comment – hearing about the details we both remember so well and just how strong taste memories are. Thank you so much for sharing.

    wandering educators, oh Bruegger’s ! Those were my bagels too when I was in college in Durham, North Carolina ! 🙂

    Jen, I’ll have to taste both side by side next time I’m in Montreal… Any good ones in Toronto ?

    Sam, really, no good bagels in Charleston ?! Hmph. Well you don’t have to schlep them quite as far back from New York. And in your post baby stage, you are not only looking normal already, but fantastic ! I’m telling Paula to bring you bagels on her next trip south !!

  11. Nina says:

    It brings back wonderful memories of our family together, sitting around the kitchen or dining room table, celebrating holidays or just Sunday! Your photos look good enough to eat soooo…. I’ll take an everything twist with some white fish please! Oh by the way …. nothing beats the Great Neck bagel !!! =)

  12. Emma says:

    I’m trying to think about bagels, but having never experienced Great Neck for myself, I’m busy conjuring up images of F. Scotty Fitz, and trying to remember the symbolism of green, and yellow, and of eggs …

    Sadly, I dislike bagels. I like the taste of onions on the onion bagels, and of cinnamon on the cinnamon raisin bagels, but I just don’t like bagels. I do like to try to pronounce them like a Mainer would – bahhgull:)

    Ha@Bruegger’s. Midwesterners just like it because it’s the only bagel shop around:D

  13. melissa says:

    oh, this post makes me miss home and feel nostalgic too. i grew up in manhattan, but have been living in the land of perfect produce and horrible bagels, san francisco. i usually bring back a suitcase full of carbs. kossar’s bialy’s are my fave – i think their bagels are the best too. conveniently located near russ & daughter’s. thanks for great post!

  14. Jenn says:

    kerrin, do you know this place?

    http://www.mybagel.ch/?Bagel_%28eng%29

    wondering if it’s worth investigating? i can’t stop thinking about bagels now!

  15. Ilana says:

    Shout out to Bagel Hut!!!!!!! Definitely my favorite (and Sebastian’s, too!). You have such a refined palate!

  16. Marlen says:

    I’ve never had a Montreal bagel, but would surely love to try 🙂
    As for the bagel bakery in Zurich, I’ve tasted their entire range and think they’re delicious (we ordered the bagel sandwiches for our Halloween party past weekend and our guests really liked them). Their sweets are quite yummy as well, pecan pie, apple pie, cheese cake, carrot cake, … 🙂

  17. Julia says:

    There is also Peace Foods in Baar (ZG) who sell bagels (also bags of frozen ones) and other yummy food – have you tried them?

  18. Kerrin says:

    Nina, you said you’ll take an everything twist with some white fish – you can, silly ! I’ll place the order with *you* and then enjoy it vicariously through you too ! 🙂

    Emma, oh boy – turns out we do have differences after all. 😉 No bagels for you ? Hmph. Have you ever had a bialy ?

    melissa, I totally giggled at your statement about “the land of perfect produce and horrible bagels” – never thought of San Francisco that way, but too funny. And Kossar’s, absolutely ! Along with Russ & Daughters, another NYC institution for sure. Thanks for the comment !

    Jenn, yes I heard of that bagel place, it’s the same link I shared above below the baking links. I’ve never tried their bagels though. Should for sure. You first ! 😉

    Ilana, total shout out to Bagel Hut ! Go Great Neck !! 🙂

    Marlen, thanks for letting us know about those Zürich bagels – a few of us were curious. How fun to cater your Halloween party with bagel sandwiches. Only… were they orange ?! 😉

    Julia, I saw Peace Foods at the Expat Expo here in Zürich, but didn’t try their bagels (or anything of theirs for that matter). I guess I knew I was heading to New York soon, so would wait for the real deal ! 🙂 But I know people who love their stuff. Thanks for the reminder !

  19. parisbreakfasts says:

    Hmmm…no mention of Murray’s..
    Particularly since I’m obliged to drag at least 1/2 dz Sesame to a Parisien each trip. Still I find the bagel has changed radically from early days when I first came to NYC.
    The SIZE is now ridiculously huge and bothers me no end.
    The neglected ‘mini’ bagel is the size of the original back then.
    And the mini is limited to just a few flavors most places..
    The mini has more crust to innards IMHO so is more balanced but it’s mostly a thing of the past..
    triste really 🙁

  20. jen laceda says:

    Kerrin, I like St. Urbain bagels from St. Lawrence Market here in Toronto. Although many establishments ship their bagels straight from Montreal every morning (after all, it’s only a 4-5 hour drive, hehe!)

  21. Julia @ Mélanger says:

    And how did I miss this post? Oh dear, oh dear……

    I’ve never had a Montreal bagel but heard much about them. I’ll have to try them one day…..fingers crossed. I fear there’s really no such thing as a good bagel in Brisbane. There was once a place that had something passable, but now, standards have dropped. Not much of a call for them here.

    Anyway, I’ve never seen a bagel twist before? Fab idea!

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