The bagel season is now open in NYC

Manhattan author, blogger (Lurching Into Decrepitude) and editor Karen Moline thinks all you need is a schmear. Preferably on a boiled bagel. Here’s her handpicked list.

Visitors to New York City often think they’re getting the street food real deal when they buy an anemic hot dog or a pretzel so salty it’ll keep you afloat from one of the ubiquitous carts on street corners. Sure, a hot dog can hit the spot, but if you’re looking for a real New York treat, go for a bagel.

Bagels were invented in Poland many hundreds of years ago, and when Jewish immigrants came to America they brought their love for the rolls with the hole in the middle with them. A real bagel is made from dough that is boiled in enormous cauldrons before being baked. That’s what gives it a hard, shiny crust and chewy dough—and that’s what makes imitation bagels missing their hot water bath no character and no taste. (Hint: packaged bagels and Dunkin Donuts bagels fit that description.)

Bagels taste best when they’re super-fresh and still steaming hot. New Yorkers love their breakfast or brunch bagels with a schmear (a little spread) of cream cheese and smoked salmon. Forget the fancy capers and onions, and toasting them removes some of the chewy character.. Simple is best.

One word of warning: bagel purists scoff at sweet bagels, like the popular cinnamon-raisin variety. I think they’re fine if you’re in the mood for something with a hint of sweetness, and they go great with peanut butter and jelly. But I draw the line at flavored bagels like strawberry or blueberry. They are an insult to a wonderful treat.

Ess-a-Bagel                359 First Avenue and 831 Third Avenue

I am fortunate (or not, depending on my waistline) to live a scant five-minute walk from Ess-a-Bagel, where the bagels are so enormous you won’t need to eat–Ess meaning eat in Yiddish—for the rest of the day after consuming one (the whole grain Everything, with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and garlic, is my fave). Ranked by many as one of the best in the city, it’s got some friendly counter guys hovering near the boiling vat near the oven. Don’t come here for ambiance because there isn’t any. Instead, order the whitefish salad or the “lite” veggie cream cheese and prepare to be stuffed. If you want an authentic NY experience, come on a Sunday morning when the line is out the door and snoop on the conversations of those grumbling with hunger.  Or show up on Halloween when trick-or-treaters get a free orange bagel instead of stale candy.

Murray’s Bagels          500 Sixth Avenue

If you’re going to go a bit more upscale, Murray’s is the place to be on weekends, when Chelsea families mingle with local drag queens for their bagel fix. Not quite as enormous as the Ess-a-Bagel variety, these bagels are still chewy and flavorful.

Jumbo Bagels              1070 Second Avenue

If you’re in Midtown East, try a bagel at Jumbo. It’s off the radar and underrated, and what I always buy here while waiting for the bus across the street is an enormous flattened bagel (so it’s not really a bagel) crusted with sesame seeds. It’s very chewy and you can’t stop yourself from eating the whole thing.

Kossar’s Bialys           364 Grand Street

Not technically a bagel, a bialy is a much smaller, unboiled cousin with a chewy dough and a smattering of delicious onions in the indentation in the center where a bagel hole would be. Kossar’s has been around forever and the place is a no-frills dump which is why I love it. Get a bialy with a schmear and you won’t feel so dough-bloated. Not to mention that it’s right near another must-visit calorie-fest, the Doughnut Plant. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

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