Bagels fresh from the oven at Black Seed Bagels in New York City.
It’s impossible to deny: The New York City bagel has gone downhill.
The once small, chewy and crisp bagels have been transformed into bloated overly airy and stale versions of their former selves. While several young cooks took up the call to revive the Jewish deli — smoking their own pastrami, baking their own rye bread and pickling their own cucs — the bagel languished. It was left out in the cold for mass marketers and producers to co-opt and morph into something that would be unrecognizable to the hundreds of bagel merchants that once dotted the Jewish Lower East Side.
Fortunately, two bagel devotees — Noah Bernamoff, the owner of Mile End Deli and Matt Kliegman of The Smile — have banded together to restore the bagel to its former glory at their new Manhattan shop Black Seed Bagels, which opened this morning.
“Matt and I have been lamenting bagels since Hurricane Sandy,” explained Bernamoff. So in October they leased a space on Elizabeth Street, down the block from Kliegman’s apartment, and got to work on developing a recipe with bakers Dianna Daoheung and Rob Rohl.
Kliegman, a New Yorker, and Bernamoff, a Montrealer, each brought their favorite elements of their native bagels to the process. “We’ve taken the things we like from both” and created something new, said Kliegman.
The bagels are small, baked in a wood oven and boiled in a kettle of water sweetened with honey (all techniques from the North Country). But the dough is also allowed to ferment overnight as is traditionally done with New York bagels to create an airy quality that Kliegman describes as “uniquely New York.”
The result is a small, slightly chewy, well-seeded bagel with just a hint of snap in its crust. At the shop — a hipsterized version of Montreal’s Fairmont Bagels — the bagels are topped with schmears like rich house-made plain, horseradish and scallion cream cheeses and a decadently fatty beet cured lox. Also on offer is a spread of smoked bluefish and cold-smoked lox from Brooklyn’s Acme smoked fish company.
Bernamoff, who helped pioneer the current Jewish food revival in New York, is known for his devotion to his hometown, at times even dispatching a truck regularly to Montreal to schlep bagels back to his Brooklyn-based deli. So why veer strictly from his roots with his newest project? “I want [these bagels] to be relevant for everyone…. I don’t want to subscribe to a pre-ordained orthodoxy,” he told us. Rather, the pair wanted to create simply a great bagel — which they have.
In that spirit, we wish to declare a truce — and we hope you will too by signing our bagel treaty below.
The Great Bagel Treaty of 2014
In the name of the most holy and individual Trinity (bagels, schmear and lox — of course): Be it known to all, and every one whom it may concern, or to whom in any manner it may belong, that for many years past, discords and civil divisions being stirred up in the world of Bagelry, which increased to such a degree, that not only all of these United States, but also the neighboring Kingdoms (Canada) have been involved in the disorders of a long and cruel war.
After having implored the assistance of the Bagel Gods, in the presence and with the consent of the two parties, the following Articles have been agreed on and consented to:
[Translation: Montreal and New York are burying the hatchet — or at least trying to.]
We, the signatories of this holy bagel treaty, agree to cease unnecessary aggression and hostility towards our neighboring bagel capital’s take on the classic bagel.
We submit that no topping other than savory toppings shall appear on our bagels. These toppings are limited to poppy seed, sesame seed, onion, garlic, salt and “everything.”
We vow to never — and we mean never — consume a sweet bagel (including but not limited to blueberry, cinnamon raison and chocolate chip varieties).
We concede that bagels may be toasted — but never gutted.
We agree that a good schmear of cream cheese and silken layers of lox are the superior toppings for a good bagel. Other toppings including scallion cream cheese, white fish or butter will also be permissible.
We vow to never consume a stale bagel.
We vow to schlep bagels with us on trips to visit our friends who live outside of these bagel capitals.
We agree that all good bagels should have a bite to them and a snap in their crust.
We vow to never succumb to a Lender’s bagel — even when no other bagel is available.
And most of all, we agree to acknowledge that the bagel of our sister capital is a respectable (but still, inferior) alternative to our own.
Signed on April 22, 2014
By Devra Ferst and Anne Cohen
The treaty’s introduction is based on the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which simultaneously ended the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War and was meant to usher an era of perpetual peace in Europe. (obviously, it didn’t work out that well)