Say what you will about the never-ending H debacle, the good news is that its got everyone talking about bagels. The bad news: When everyone starts talking about bagels, the consensus is that they suck. Or rather the comparatively titanic, squishy-soft impostors commonly known as bagels suck. The true bagel (hand-shaped dough made from high-gluten flour, yeast, salt, and malt syrup thats poached in a kettle of boiling alkalized water before being baked into a dense and chewy puck) has pretty much gone the way of the woolly mammoth. Sightings are rare. Hope for a revival does not readily spring.
If you believe Mimi Sheraton, its worse than that. Their like will not come this way again , she wrote in the Times a few weeks ago. Youd think that such a dismal state of affairs would only spur the industrious townsfolk of Artisanal Brooklyn into actionthat each and every member of the community would roll up his flannel sleeves and begin boiling kettles of alkalized bagel water. Hasnt happened. But just when all seems lost on the cream-cheese-and-Nova front, into the breach step Noah Bernamoff and Rae Cohen of Mile End. Theyve been gearing up to launch a bagel-making operation out of their Red Hook commissary, with a post-Labor Day push at their Noho sandwich shop. Last month, they test-drove several sesame-seeded batches at Paper magazines Super Duper Market. (Up until now, theyve imported their bagels, somewhat controversially, from St. Viateur in Montreal.) New York-bagel chauvinists should know that Mile Ends, while hand-rolled and properly smallish, are made in the Montreal stylewith eggs in the dough and honey in the water. Not that theres anything wrong with that. Even so, the Montreal-versus-New York debate doesnt interest Bernamoff. I just want to make old-fashioned bagels, he says. Tradition is also paramount to Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman, fourth generation owners of Russ & Daughters, Manhattans preeminent appetizing shop, and although their wholesale supplier has its fans (even Mimi Sheraton admits the mini bagels arent bad), its always been the shops ambition to make its own. Finally, its happening: Testing has begun; kettle water is boiling. Better bagels may be on their way.
Mile End Sandwich, 53 Bond St., nr. Bowery; 212-529-2990
Russ & Daughters, 179 E. Houston St., nr. Orchard St.; 212-475-4880
This story appeared in the August 27, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.