New York is having an appetizing moment.
And down the street, a pair of newcomers are throwing their hats in the bagel ring with an honest-to-God appetizing shop, bagel bar, and sit-down deli on Little Italy’s western fringe.
Baz Bagel and Restaurant is the brainchild of two restaurant veterans who both live nearby. David Heffernan waited tables at legendary lox emporium Barney Greengrass for eight years while Bari Musacchio managed local Italian hotspot Rubirosa. The two became friendly through Musacchio’s weekly pilgrimages to the Upper West Side for bagels and smoked fish.
“We used to joke that we lived a block apart, but only saw each other on 86th Street,” Musacchio told the Forward the day before Baz’s official opening. They’d also commiserate on the lack of decent breakfast options below Houston Street. “Once we got to know each other, we always talked about opening our own place. And then this space opened up.”
The pair overhauled a former juice bar to resemble a classic bagel shop, complete with ten stools and 25 more seats along a black leather banquette in an all-white interior. Musacchio, who travels frequently to Coral Gables with her girlfriend, said that South Florida’s ubiquitous sit-down bagel restaurants provided the template for Baz. “A lot of inspiration came from shops like the Bagel Emporium down there,” she said. “It’s a must-stop for us. Places like that are rare in New York City, but pretty common in South Florida, where you can order at a counter or sit for a full-service meal.”
The menu at Baz — Musacchio’s childhood nickname — is as classic as those old-school joints, starting with the bagels themselves. Plump and soft, with perfect chew, they’re hand-rolled, kettle-boiled, and baked on burlap-covered boards in a rotating oven. Once the tops start crisping — after about three minutes “around the ferris wheel”, as Musacchio puts it — the bagels get hand-flipped. All of the bagel varieties ($1.25 each) are savory, Heffernan added, with staples like plain, poppy, everything, pumpernickel, and whole wheat, and a few cross-pollinations like whole-wheat everything. “You won’t see blueberry bagels here,” he joked.
Accompaniments more than stand up to the baked goods. Superb fish from Brooklyn’s Acme means lush nova ($10 in a bagel sandwich served with cream cheese, tomato, Pickle Guys pickle, and onion) or silky sable ($15). A full slate of breakfast options includes “eggs a la baz” (two latkes, two poached eggs, nova, and chive, for $14), or eggs any style with a bagel ($5). Bagel sandwiches like the Rainbow Kitty ($9), which pairs house-cured gravlax with cream cheese on a bagel, round out lunch offerings. And lox by the pound will also be available.
Baz’s cream cheese will get seasonal touches as well; for the brief window that ramps are in season, Heffernan and Musacchio will blend in the wild onions as an opening special.
Heffernan and Musacchio have also assembled a tight list of mostly “Old-World wines geared to pair with fish rather than overpower it,” Musacchio said, like an Austrian Gruet Blanc de Blanc ($11/glass). “A lot of people in this neighborhood drink during lunch,” she added. Likewise, a custom “Baz blend” of coffee beans was tweaked by specialty roaster La Colombe to suit the restaurant’s pescetarian cuisine. “It’s a little more medium, a little less acidic,” Musacchio said. In a neighborhood where tourists often seem to outnumber locals, does the pair think they’ll find an appreciation for the kind of classic deli they’re trying to create?
“When tourists come to New York, they think of two foods — pizza and bagels,” Heffernan said. “Even if they don’t know the other food, they know the word. And they want something authentic.”
181 Grand St., 212-335-0609
Photos courtesy of Baz Bagels