Saturday, March 8, 2014
In a world big on bagels, the New York variety is the standard by which all others are judged. Spongy yet dense, crispy on the outside and chewy texture within—these are the first born of bagels.
The golden glow of New York bagels
For years all bagel production in New York was headed by the Bagel Bakers Union Local 338 when they were made by hand in the roll-with-a-hole method. Brooklyn and the Bronx were big bagel centers.
The dough is based on bread or plain flour, leavening or sour dough starter, salt, yeast and a sweetener like barley malt, honey or sugar. It’s shaped into rounds, left to rise for 12 hours and put in a water bath for a short time before baked in ovens. New York bagels, in particular, have that distinctive deep golden-brushed glow
But can you get a decent bagel in Maine?
Our only Brooklyn-quality bagel comes from the Mister Bagel chain. But I’m surprised that they don’t make other bagel-maven must-haves like flagels, bialys or twists.
Mister Bagel is the only NY style bagel in Maine
But where in Maine is the elusive flagel?
Started by the Hartglass family in 1977, Rick Hartglass came from Brooklyn and brought his bagel prowess with him. His were made by the traditional boil-and-bake method as they still are today. The original Forest Ave. shop bakes them on premises, but the dough is shipped from a commissary that supplies its 12 other satellite stores.
Mister Bagel does a nice bagel. But whenever I’m in New York I’ can't resist carrying back a mixed dozen bagels and flagels from Goldberg’s Famous bagels— no bupkes tomfoolery about these.
Beyond that we have in Maine—I hate to say it—bagels made by artisanal bakers. Distinctive in their own style, the stars of our local bagel bakers are Josh Potocki’s 158 Pickett Street Cafe and Scratch Baking in South Portland and Rosemont at its Brighton Avenue bake house in Portland.
The cafe is popular for breakfast and lunch everyday
Racks of bagels at 158
158 and Scratch, who used to be partners, basically produce the same kind of bagel from a nearly identical sour-dough starter. 158 offers more toppings: from sesame, everything, poppy, onion, garlic, salt to plain. Scratch has an intensely seasoned sea-salt bagel as well as sesame, poppy multi-seeded and plain.
158's bagel with all the fixing boxed and ready to go
These bagels are more like a baguette than a toothsome bagel—or as a friend of describes them, “Bagels for the goyim!”
Scratch baking's everything seeded, sesame and plain bagels
Rosemont’s are very similar in taste and texture but slightly smaller, averaging 3 1/2 inches to South Portland’s 5 inches.
The bagel bin is nearly empty on Sunday morning at Rosemont's Brighton Ave. store
What’s best on a bagel? Anything goes, but the standard is always lox (smoked salmon to gentiles) and cream cheese. Add a slice or two of red onion, tomato (in the summer), some capers and you're in bagel heaven.
158’s bagel spread that I had recently is a real winner. Perfectly toasted and crisp, it has a thin coating of cream cheese (no schmear), smoked salmon, sliced red onion, capers and sliced cucumbers—a very refreshing touch. Rosemont’s prepared bagel is more straightforward with a thick layer of cream cheese and very good smoked salmon.
Bagel bagging at Scratch Sunday morning
Happy bagel moments
Scratch is strictly take-home to make your own, but they sell blended cream cheeses and smoked salmon. Mister Bagel offers the full megillah--lots of variations of cream cheeses and toppings.
What’s my favorite? All of the above. But I have to admit to a food vice leftover from childhood that involves a toasted onion bagel spread with Jif or Skippy creamy peanut butter, strawberry jam and lots of paper towels to wipe up all all those delicious drippings.
Correction: It was mistakenly noted that Scratch Baking has bagels only on Sundays. That is incorrect. They're available everyday. Hooray!
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.