People kvetch about the lines. They kvetch about sullen counter help. They kvetch about the blah space. But all kvetching stops once bagel meets mouth. Exceptionally moist, and pleasingly plump, Absolute’s bagels emerge warm from the oven throughout the day, and — miraculously — seem to stay soft longer than the competition’s. This Upper West Side bakery also gets points for generous schmears and cheapish prices — a pillowy poppy bagel with silky cream cheese will set you back a buck seventy-five. Fun fact: Absolute Bagels is Thai-owned, according to reliable sources.
2788 Broadway, Manhattan, 212-932-2052
Black Seed Bagels
You don’t have to fight over whether Montreal or New York has better bagels. At his ultra-cool artisan bagelry, Noah Bernamoff — he of Mile End — has fused the best DNA of both to create a hybrid that might beat both. Methods here are proudly old-school — bagels are hand-rolled and baked in a wood-fired oven — but the atmosphere at Black Seed’s three locations is Brooklyn hip. And a house beet lox sandwich on a poppy bagel is heaven.
176 First Avenue, New York (and two other locations) 646-484-5718
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an Ess-a-Bagel bagel! It’s just a slight exaggeration. Since 1976, this East Side bakery has cranked out the city’s biggest, brawniest bagels for out-the-door lines of appreciative New Yorkers. Boiled in tap water and baked, they’re irresistibly crunchy outside; soft inside — like some of its famously cranky customers, as the store likes to joke. House-made whitefish salad and seven luscious cream cheeses make worthy companions for these carb bombs.
324 1st Avenue, New York 212-260-2252
Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys
After 80 years, Kossar’s underwent a reboot http://forward.com/food/332960/behold-kossars-bialys-20/ in 2016, brightening its lovably dingy space and — gulp — adding bialy variations like sun-dried tomato and apple cinnamon. Kossar’s also offered bagels with schmears — something never possible before the rehab. Thankfully, the baking’s as flawless as ever, with irresistibly chewy but feather-light bialys and chewy, compact bagels. Genius sandwiches, too, like the “Cool Katz” — a deli tribute with pastrami salmon, horseradish-pickle cream cheese, and caraway seeds.
367 Grand Street, New York 212-473-4810
Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish
Wall Street refugee Matt Pomerantz runs New York’s fanciest bagelry — restaurant designer Glen Cohen created the retro-chic space — but hisproduct keeps it real. Hand-rolled and kettle-boiled, bagels here emerge just crispy enough, with a satisfying chew. Zucker’s also operates a full-blown appetizing store, with smoked and cured fish, soups and spreads by the pound, from hummus to (gasp!) maple-walnut cream cheese. Bonus: Realer-than-real black-and white cookies from Brooklyn’s Israel Beigel are available here.
146 Chambers Street, New York (and two other locations) 212-608-5844
Michael Kaminer is a contributing editor at the Forward.