What is a New York bagel? Don't be fooled by its many imitators: a New York bagel is something special. A bagel should be slightly chewy but not tire your jaw. It must be fresh and contain no preservatives. A New York bagel is one of those things that you recognize when you eat it.
A real bagel is made in the authentic New York tradition: dough is made and kneaded, then it's boiled in a kettle, and finally it's baked in an oven to make the outside crispy. Some companies shorten the process by steam-cooking but their products don't deserve to be called bagels; they're soft and flavorless.
Our local newspaper recently reported on a nationwide search for the best bagel in America -- and the winner was a store on Long Island. This shouldn't surprise anyone; bagels are a way of life here. I think there's a law that every strip-mall on Long Island must contain at least one bagel store.
The winning store (A&S Bagels in Franklin Square) has some unusual features. First, I learned it's open 24/7. Yup, it never closes. If you hanker for a bagel at 4:00 in the morning on a Tuesday, they'll satisfy your hunger. Second, it always has a line. Always. Third, they do a big wholesale business. Secret: many "bagel stores" don't make their own bagels; they buy them pre-made from A&S and merely bake them to appear homemade.
I went to A&S today to check out the store and its wares. The store is a ratty old building in a crummy industrial area. Their building is huge but has only a tiny room open to the public; obviously, most of the space is devoted to bagel-making. There is no dining area, just two cashiers at a counter. The cashiers are crusty old women who learned how to put on makeup in the 1950's. Even though I deliberately visited at an off-hour, there was a line. There's always a line.
With all these negatives, I figured the bagels must be pretty damn good to attract attention. And they are. In a word, they are perfect. They have the exact right consistency of chewy. They are fresh as a snowflake and made with natural ingredients. A bagel you can bring home to Momma. Also, they have a nice variety of 20 different flavors: I had a cheddar cheese bagel that had as much cheese on it as bread. Yumm.
Do you eat bagels?