Bagels fresh from the oven at Black Seed Bagels in New York City.
It’s impossible to deny: The New York City bagel has gone downhill.
The once small, chewy and crisp bagels have been transformed into bloated overly airy and stale versions of their former selves. While several young cooks took up the call to revive the Jewish deli — smoking their own pastrami, baking their own rye bread and pickling their own cucs — the bagel languished. It was left out in the cold for mass marketers and producers to co-opt and morph into something that would be unrecognizable to the hundreds of bagel merchants that once dotted the Jewish Lower East Side.
Fortunately, two bagel devotees — Noah Bernamoff, the owner of Mile End Deli and Matt Kliegman of The Smile — have banded together to restore the bagel to its former glory at their new Manhattan shop Black Seed Bagels, which opened this morning.
“Matt and I have been lamenting bagels since Hurricane Sandy,” explained Bernamoff. So in October they leased a space on Elizabeth Street, down the block from Kliegman’s apartment, and got to work on developing a recipe with bakers Dianna Daoheung and Rob Rohl.
Montreal’s St-Viateur Bagel has come a long way since Buchenwald survivor Myer Lewkowicz opened his humble storefront bakery in a rundown immigrant neighborhood in 1957.
Under the Morena family, its owners since 1994, St-Viateur has ballooned to six retail outlets, a thriving wholesale operation, and a fast-growing delivery business to rabid bagel fans in the United States.
Now, St-Viateur’s taking its wares on the road – literally. The iconic bakery has launched its first food truck, and the only rolling kitchen in Montreal’s nascent food-truck scene dedicated to bagels. The sleek yellow van, emblazoned with the bakery’s familiar dancing-bagel logo, made its debut this summer, and this week unveiled a full schedule for Montreal’s downtown business district.
On the menu: A simple bagel & butter ($2.25CDN); classic bagel and cream cheese ($3.75); “The Traditional”, a bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese, onion, tomatoes, capers, and lemon ($9) ; and perhaps the ultimate Montreal mash-up, a bagel with smoked meat and mustard ($9). An egg-bagel sandwich with bacon and cheddar cheese – definitely not an item from Myer Lewkowicz’s day – comes with filtered coffee for $7. Smoothies, coffee drinks, and fresh-squeezed orange juice round out the menu.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of St-Viateur in Montreal’s culinary and cultural landscape. Hand-rolled, boiled in honey-flavored water, and wood-fired, St-Viateur’s chewy old-fashioned bagels have become a staple for locals, and a huge draw for tourists; a rivalry between St-Viateur and neighbor Fairmount Bagel even got play on the BBC as “Montreal’s bagel war”. When Brooklyn uber-deli Mile End began importing Montreal bagels, owner Noah Bernamoff – a former Montrealer- chose St-Viateur, as the Forward has reported.
It may be hard to believe that for some bagel lovers, New York bagels are not the be all and end all. Not everyone may know it, but Montreal is a big bagel town, too. And now some U.S. cities — New York, included — are serving Montreal bagels on their turf.
“My folks are from Montreal, so I always grew up with a sense of bagel superiority,” David Sax, Jewish food connoisseur and author of “Save the Deli,” told the Jew and the Carrot. He thinks a niche market for Montreal bagel has formed since word got out around the U.S. about them from ex-Montrealers and others who visited the French-speaking city, tasted the bagels there, and loved them.