Generally speaking, New York bagels aren’t what they used to be — hand-shaped, kettle-boiled, and baked into smallish pucks with a good amount of chew. Happily, there remain exceptions. Here, the five best bagels in NYC.
2. Freds at Barneys
660 Madison Ave., nr. 61st St.; 212-833-2200
Scour the menus at both branches of Freds and it’s still easy to miss, a bit of italicized fine print past the eggless “frittata” and avocado toast: “Freds Bagels — plain and everything bagels and bialys made fresh by 11 a.m. every Sunday morning.” Hand-rolled and loaded with spices, Mark Strausman’s bagels are about preservation, not innovation. They’re also genius. Because the bagels are sold one day a week only, the dough benefits from a longer ferment. The bagels are blasted until they have a polished brown crust that stops just short of crunch; and the crumb is rich, and still warm, when the basket reaches the table.
3. New Thirteenth Avenue Bagel Bakery Corporation
4807 13th Ave., nr. 48th St., Borough Park; 718-633-4009
The sign outside forgoes the lengthy name above in favor of the simpler “HOT BAGELS,” which is what you want to order here: The malty specimens have a beautiful blistery exterior and are good enough to restore the faith of anyone who’s given up on finding the 1970s-style New York bagel that’s all but extinct. Brave the line that stretches onto the sidewalk, don’t invoke the ire of any old rabbis with your obstructionism, and when you finally make it up front, remember that toppings are limited to pickles, cream cheese, and a handful of fishy spreads like the pastel-pink lox number. Most of all, don’t be surprised if they don’t have, well, everything. “Only plain?” one customer recently was overheard asking. He watched the bagels come off the board in the back. “That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll take two dozen.”
4. Bagel Hole
400 Seventh Ave., nr. 13th St., Park Slope; 718-788-4014
With its tattered brown awning and fogged-up early morning windows, this Brooklyn institution strikes a defiantly anachronistic tone in an age of flashy s’mores cream cheese and tempeh-Waldorf-salad spreads. The staff, along with the shop’s more devout customers, will tell you there is no toaster on the cramped premises, which is really another way to say there’s no excuse to eat bagels that aren’t warm and freshly baked. This is the place that Bill de Blasio told a rapt group of D.C. reporters a couple of years ago was the best, which was a nice step in the right direction after he ate pizza with a fork and a knife. The best here have a chewy, almost knotty interior and a winning crackle to their crust. Bagel Hole excels at the classic salt, which is so rare it may as well be considered an endangered art form.
When new owners brightened up the old Seward Park bialy destination with pendant lamps and gleaming white subway tiles, there was a good deal of not-entirely-unexpected pushback from longtime customers with well-developed hipster detectors. A glut of Kossar’s-branded tote bags is one thing, and the quasi-downward trajectory of its once-lauded bialys is another, but the bagels have improved to a significant degree after a rocky relaunch. The whole-wheat everything may be a step too New Age–y for purists, and management’s move to trademark the word schmears for their house cream cheeses may come as a general affront to the spirit of the Lower East Side, but the bagels still have the authentic depth of flavors brought out by malt and brewer’s yeast, used by Kossar’s since the 1930s.