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Random Wed Sep 22 2010

NYC vs. CHI: Bagels

We've asked Chicagoan-turned-NYCer and freelance writer Rachel Z. Arndt and NYCer-turned-Chicagoan (and GB staffer) Lori Barrett to compare notes on what foods make each city. Their findings on the bagel below.

RACHEL:

How can you say no to a place called Kosher Bagel Hole? It's a saving grace in dreary Midwood, a Brooklyn neighborhood best known for over-hyped pizza (DiFara) and wig shops. And though "hole" may not be the most enticing pun, what the store lacks in ambiance, convenience, and name, it more than makes up for in its specialty: traditionally made kosher bagels, the kind bagel snobs say are made the way they're supposed to be. That means they're puny compared to those from pretty much anywhere else. It also means they're less sweet -- and that's a good thing. The first time I went to Kosher Bagel Hole, a fluorescent-filled corner shop complete with bad coffee and pushy patrons, I got a sesame seed bagel (the safe choice) and toasted and buttered it at home. Its crunchy outside kept the just-dense-enough interior soft and flavorful, with hints of sourdough.

My Chicago favorite, Chicago Bagel Authority, certainly boasts a better vibe -- and neighborhood -- than Kosher Bagel Hole, but its fare (although delicious) comes up a tad short. Luckily, they're right in that they're not bagel-shaped breads -- like the things Au Bon Pain, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and plenty of others call bagels -- and my go-to buttered whole wheat always hits the spot. They stand up well to those from New York's H&H (which stand in a very close second place to Kosher Bagel Hole's), and after a recent trip to the sweaty Upper West Side outpost, I was hard-pressed to come up with anything to swing me in favor of one or the other. The whole-wheat bagels at both CBA and H&H are slightly smaller -- and actually more bagel-y -- than their other choices.

New York wins this one, but Chicagoans, don't let New Yorkers say you don't know a tasty bagel -- you do, it's just not quite as delightful as the diminutive and classically made offering at Kosher Bagel Hole.

LORI:

I didn't give much thought to the bagel until I moved to Chicago four years ago. In New York, bagels are everywhere. They were served at meetings and parties at work, at brunch, at parties at my kids' school, and often at kiddie birthday parties there would be a tray of bagels, tomatoes, lox and capers somewhere on the food table alongside the pizza and baby carrots. Our go-to bagel shop was Bagels in the Park, on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn). My kids and I often stopped in on our way to or from the playground across the street. They loved their egg bagels, which they'd eat from the crust inward. Many kids in New York don't bite into their bagels; they peel them, eating the firm and chewy crust and leaving the softer inside in a squishy pile on the table. When we got to Chicago and my kids could no longer peel their bagels, or find bagels with a true egg flavor; they complained, and I realized that Chicago, for all its culinary advantages, is not a bagel town.

Here in Chicago, we live near an Einstein Bros. store, so that was our first attempt to find bagels. Then, I asked around. On the suggestion of friends, we hit Treasure Island, New York Bagel Deli, Whole Foods for H&H bagels, and recently, Bagels on Damen. This Wicker Park shop came the closest to the bagels I remember. It's almost possible to peel the crust away from the bagel, but the inside still seems a little too dry and hard. Though, to be fair, I went at the end of the day. And, as my son reminded me, he could never peel a bagel on the second day. So far, we've put off the drive to Skokie to try New York Bagel & Bialy. I wouldn't have traveled a half an hour in New York for a bagel. So, I have to agree with Rachel: New York wins this one.

 
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Melinda / September 22, 2010 3:14 PM

Max's Deli in Highland Park makes their own bagels right there (you can watch) and on Tuesday they're half off.

jason / September 22, 2010 3:19 PM

but suppose you want a montreal-style bagel? all i'm sayin is you can get them in houston.

Jen / September 22, 2010 5:04 PM

Bagels on Damen gets their bagels from New York Bagel and Bialy, so you didn't miss anything! Though getting fresh bagels from the source for a bit cheaper is sometimes worth a stop if you're in the neighborhood. They have a great lox cream cheese and tuna salad, too!

L / September 26, 2010 2:59 PM

Mmmm... New York Bagels & Bialys!

I haven't tried Chicago Bagel Authority and can't compare but B&B's are really-really good!

I go to the Touhy/lincolnwood location. I'm in the city so it's a short drive and it is right off the Edens /94.

Sometimes I buy too many and freeze the extras.
;-)

I didn't know this until I googled B&B's website:
Since 1987 we have producing the freshest and most authentic bagels on the planet. With roots in the original locations in Chicago (Touhy Ave) and New York (Jerome Ave) our recipes have carried on generation to generation.

Ha ha... and
THE last step for a bagel before it reaches the oven is quick swim the kettle. (This is another way to spot bogus bagel shops. Ask to see their kettle. If they can't show you a kettle, they aren't making bagels, they're making bread--it's that simple.) Why is the kettle so important? Kettle-boiling a bagel is what gives it a crisp outer shell. If you're going to have a bagel without a crisp outer shell, you might as well spread cream cheese on a hamburger bun!

Many people rave about Kaufmans but I wasn't very impressed.

L / September 26, 2010 3:02 PM

Mmmm... New York Bagels & Bialys!

I haven't tried Chicago Bagel Authority and can't compare but B&B's are really-really good!

I go to the Touhy/lincolnwood location. I'm in the city so it's a short drive and it is right off the Edens /94.

Sometimes I buy too many and freeze the extras.
;-)

I didn't know this until I googled B&B's website:
Since 1987 we have producing the freshest and most authentic bagels on the planet. With roots in the original locations in Chicago (Touhy Ave) and New York (Jerome Ave) our recipes have carried on generation to generation.

Ha ha... and
THE last step for a bagel before it reaches the oven is quick swim the kettle. (This is another way to spot bogus bagel shops. Ask to see their kettle. If they can't show you a kettle, they aren't making bagels, they're making bread--it's that simple.) Why is the kettle so important? Kettle-boiling a bagel is what gives it a crisp outer shell. If you're going to have a bagel without a crisp outer shell, you might as well spread cream cheese on a hamburger bun!

Many people rave about Kaufmans but I wasn't very impressed.

webdiva / September 28, 2010 1:57 PM

If you think finding a decent bagel in the city is hard, try finding one in the far SW suburbs. There' only Racine Bakery on Archer in Garfield Ridge for anything that comes close. When I get desperate, I still resort to New York Bagel & Bialy on Touhy or Kaufmann's, but that's a specil trip.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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