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Bringing in the bagels

Bringing in the bagels
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  • Bringing in the bagels

    Post #1 - October 2nd, 2005, 6:37 am
    Post #1 - October 2nd, 2005, 6:37 am Post #1 - October 2nd, 2005, 6:37 am
    Image
              The Bagel-Off
    Brotine, Cathy2, JimInLoganSquare, RheS, stevez and I gathered in Skokie for the first (and likely last) LTH Bagel-Off, on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005. Everyone brought bagels. (Jim shlepped all the way to Libertyville for part of his contribution.) Steve very kindly supplied us with light and creamy cream cheese from New York Bagel and somewhat denser cheese from Kaufman's. RheS went for coffee.

    We halved the bagels with a bagel guillotine and then cut them in smaller pieces for tasting. Fortunately, Cathy2 thought to bring a serrated knife (mine is still lost, somewhere in my car), and stevez pitched in with a wicked-looking pocketknife.


    Image
    Cathy2 cutting up


    The guillotine was a gift -- something I never would have bought -- but it's actually pretty useful for cutting bagels quickly. However, we discovered that it has trouble with oversize bagels, and soft bagels tend to squish.

            Image

    I think we all agreed on criteria: The perfect bagel should be dense and chewy, a texture produced by boiling before baking. It should not be squishy nor doughy, and it should have a good breadlike flavor. Also: bagels should be savory breads; they are not meant to come in flavors like blueberry-chocolate chip or pumpkin-cranberry. Bagels taste best when freshly baked and preferably still warm. (None of us were able to get warm bagels.)

    Despite our lengthy preparations, the results were inconclusive. We did not go in for elaborate numerical rating or anything like that. However, I believe we pretty much had consensus on each bagel. (If I ever were so silly as to do anything like this again, though, I think having rating forms would make things easier.)

    While some bagel bakeries were consistently better than others, no single bakery consistently produced the best bagel in each category. For example, Upper Crust, whose pumpernickel we all loved, produced very unsatisfactory plain and onion bagels. Also, based on the tasters' previous experiences with these bakeries, some of the bagels didn't measure up to the same places at other times. Time of day, individual bakers and other factors apparently influence how good a particular bagel is going to be.

    However, with the unexpected exception of the Upper Crust pumpernickel -- a very clear winner -- the results were unsurprising. Over all, the Chicago, Kaufman's and New York bagels met most of our criteria better than most of the rest.

    We also discovered that -- in quantity, without the typical accompaniments -- bagels are boring. We brought more bagels than we tasted, but when it began to rain, we were all pretty glad to adjourn. (I should have listened to those who advised a site under cover.)

    My recommendation is to decide what kind of bagel you like best, find a bakery who usually makes it well, and buy your bagels from there. Tasters' comments and conclusions follow the photos.


    The Contenders


    Image
    Bagels by the Book
    870 S. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, IL 60048, 847-367-7811


    Image
    Bagel Country
    9306 N. Skokie Blvd. Skokie, IL 60077, 847-673-3030


    Image
    BB's Bagels
    2835 West Touhy Ave.,Chicago, IL 60645, 773-761-8805


    Image
    Chicago Bagel & Bialy Deli
    260 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling, IL 60090, 847-459-9009, http://www.chicagobagel.com


    Not pictured
    Kaufman's Bagel & Delicatessen

    4905 Dempster St., Skokie, IL 60077, 847-677-9880


    Image
    New York Bagels and Bialys
    4714 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, IL 60712, 847-677-9388


    Image
    Once Upon a Bagel
    1888 1st St., Highland Park, IL 60035, 847-433-1411, http://onceuponabagel.com


    Image
    Upper Crust Bagels
    835 Waukegan Road, Deerfield, IL 60015, 847-405-0805


    Plain

    By the Book: "Nice and chewy."
    Bagel Country: Soft, bready interior, but with an OK crust.
    BB's: Nice flavor, but soft: "Like a good dinner roll."
    Chicago: Dense and chewy, with an almost crackly cornmeal-enhanced crust and good flavor. "Like a bagel should be."
    Kaufman's: Flavorless, a little soft. "Really needs cream cheese."
    New York: "Dense, but not too dense." Some doughiness.
    Once Upon: Not available.
    Upper Crust: Soft and doughy. "Kind of undercooked."


    Pumpernickel

    By the Book: Very dark and attractive color, good texture, but disappointingly flavorless.
    Bagel Country: Weak, soft.
    BB's: "A brown bagel."
    Chicago: Sold out before we got there.
    Kaufman's: Not a lot of pumpernickel flavor, but hints of anise. Decent texture.
    New York: Good crust, with some caraway flavor.
    Once Upon: Soft, largely tasteless with a bit of caraway.
    Upper Crust: Lots of rye/caraway flavor and good density and chewiness.


    Onion

    By the Book: Best onion flavor, but doughy.
    Bagel Country: "Kind of squashy." Flavor undistinguished.
    BB's: Soft, misshapen, not too flavorful.
    Chicago regular: Not much onion flavor. Texture was fine.
    Chicago French onion: Onion and poppyseeds mixed into the dough, but even less onion flavor than the regular. Good texture.
    Kaufman's: Winner by default: Medium onion flavor, decently dense texture.
    New York: A little doughy, with OK onion flavor.
    Once Upon: "How do they make the onions so tasteless?"
    Upper Crust: Spongy crust. Onions tasted burnt.
  • Post #2 - October 3rd, 2005, 1:27 pm
    Post #2 - October 3rd, 2005, 1:27 pm Post #2 - October 3rd, 2005, 1:27 pm
    This rather puts me in mind of the Baguette taste-off, where great effort went into bringing together lots of bread from different bakeries, but there was not structure at all to the tasting so the results were not as useful as they might be.

    Not sure what the proper approach is, LAZ, since the "ratings" from a structured tasting present an appearance of scientific rankings in what is essentially a subjective comparison. I like the photos, comments and definition of what a good bagel should be, up front, though.

    Based on the pictures and comments, Chicago Bagels and Bialys looks to be much better than the others. Too bad that Wheeling is a bit inconvenient for this boy... Will try to get some pix of Schmaltz' to add to the mix. They buy dough from New York and cook it here. After much experimentation, they have determined that the key to getting the right flavor & texture is to use NYC tap water to boil the bagels, so I think they now bring that in with the dough. Really
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #3 - October 3rd, 2005, 1:32 pm
    Post #3 - October 3rd, 2005, 1:32 pm Post #3 - October 3rd, 2005, 1:32 pm
    dicksond wrote:Will try to get some pix of Schmaltz' to add to the mix. They buy dough from New York and cook it here. After much experimentation, they have determined that the key to getting the right flavor & texture is to use NYC tap water to boil the bagels, so I think they now bring that in with the dough. Really


    Have they stopped suffocating their bagels in those plastic bins yet?
  • Post #4 - October 4th, 2005, 10:16 am
    Post #4 - October 4th, 2005, 10:16 am Post #4 - October 4th, 2005, 10:16 am
    Thanks for the report. You have provided a great public service with this bagel-off. I have a bagel for breakfast most weekday mornings (usually from the NY B&B on Touhy). I'm glad to know that I haven't been missing out on a far superior product, but somewhat saddened to know that my city can't do better.
    I lived in NY for a year, and as a born-and-bred Chicagoan, I got really tired of my New York friends insisting that NY is best at all things food-related. However, I have yet to find a Chicago bagel that can come close to H&H in NY. I just got back from NY (clutching my dozen from H&H close to my heart on the airplane). After I read the bagel-off results, I decided to mix things up with a half of an everything bagel from H&H and half from NY B&B and have a blind taste test. In all fairness, the one from NY B&B had been frozen. But the H&H bagel was the hands-down winner in my book. Great flavor, nice crust, and just the right amount of chew. Does anyone have any NY connections? How do we get H&H to open up an outpost in Chicago? Is it the water?
  • Post #5 - October 4th, 2005, 10:49 am
    Post #5 - October 4th, 2005, 10:49 am Post #5 - October 4th, 2005, 10:49 am
    How do we get H&H to open up an outpost in Chicago?


    I'm a big H&H fan too, and so you know, they will ship to Chicago but I understand it's costly and I don't know how the bagels take to shipping. There's nothing better than when they're fresh. www.hhbagels.com

    But even better than H&H, in my opinion, is Ess-A-Bagel, but I don't think that they ship their bagels.
  • Post #6 - October 4th, 2005, 11:57 am
    Post #6 - October 4th, 2005, 11:57 am Post #6 - October 4th, 2005, 11:57 am
    I'm a big H&H fan too, and so you know, they will ship to Chicago but I understand it's costly and I don't know how the bagels take to shipping. There's nothing better than when they're fresh. www.hhbagels.com

    But even better than H&H, in my opinion, is Ess-A-Bagel, but I don't think that they ship their bagels.


    Yep, having bagels shipped to your door from NYC is expensive, but I can say from experience that they hold up pretty well, if you don't mind having to toast them to bring them back to life. A freshly baked bagel has maybe 1/2 a day shelf life during which it can be eaten au naturel, that is, sans toasting. I thought that the bagel selection in Skokie was pretty damn close to New York, especially Kaufman's pumpernickel/onion bagels and the bialys at NY Bagel/Bialy on Dempster (in fact, Kaufman's chopped liver, salamis, lox, and baked goods both savory and sweet always sated my tastes for Jewish delights. No chopped herring, though, unfortunately.) Anyway, if you're really committed to having a New York bagel or bialy (and you might want to have yourself committed after paying 30 bucks for shipping), check out Kossar's on the Lower East Side. Great bagels and positively transcendent bialys:

    www.kossarsbialys.com

    Reb
  • Post #7 - October 4th, 2005, 2:23 pm
    Post #7 - October 4th, 2005, 2:23 pm Post #7 - October 4th, 2005, 2:23 pm
    I've actually had the H&H bagels shipped, both as a special present to myself, and to grateful friends and relatives. Quite pricey, but they do ship well. I'm also fortunate enough to go to New York often enough that I can bring back a duffel full of bagels (O.K. not quite that many, but my carry-on bag was stuffed and had a distinctive garlicky smell). I will have to try Kossar's on my next trip. Thanks.
  • Post #8 - October 4th, 2005, 9:34 pm
    Post #8 - October 4th, 2005, 9:34 pm Post #8 - October 4th, 2005, 9:34 pm
    I've sampled H&H in New York. I would not say that they were better than the best that Kaufman's or Chicago Bagel can do.
  • Post #9 - October 4th, 2005, 11:25 pm
    Post #9 - October 4th, 2005, 11:25 pm Post #9 - October 4th, 2005, 11:25 pm
    I found the bagels we tested to mostly all be pretty good. Certain styles were better from one bakery or another, but there was no clear overall winner. Nothing I tasted made me change my preference for NY Bagel & Bialy or, in a pinch, Kauffmans. With the exception of the physically unapealing, underbaked bagels from Upper Crust, I wouldn't feel bad about eating any of them if my first choices weren't available.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #10 - October 5th, 2005, 11:44 am
    Post #10 - October 5th, 2005, 11:44 am Post #10 - October 5th, 2005, 11:44 am
    HI,

    Ironically, the underbaked bagels from Upper Crust were also the most expensive bagels present at $6.80 per bakers dozen. This was a place which seemed to succomb to customer pressure to get the product out, even though it was not quite ready. I would have brought an egg bagel from them however it required a 15 minute wait, which I was not prepared to do.

    What surprised me about all the bagel producers was the inconsistency of the product. Where one bagel might be perfectly baked, another from the same shop needed more time. You wondered if they relied on eye-balling or time-passed before pulling them from the oven. I began to believe the results we obtained on a high demand Sunday would vary if it were a low-volume weekday or returned for another Sunday.

    In the end, you go with you like as LAZ suggested and know there will be differences between the batches on any given day.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #11 - November 30th, 2005, 7:49 am
    Post #11 - November 30th, 2005, 7:49 am Post #11 - November 30th, 2005, 7:49 am
    Yep, having bagels shipped to your door from NYC is expensive, but I can say from experience that they hold up pretty well, if you don't mind having to toast them to bring them back to life."


    Umm. Gee. Not quite sure how to approach this but I have always toasted my bagels. At least when a toaster was around. I can't recall my family ever having anything else unless bagels were out for "company" and "company" included the goyim (you should pardon the expression) who didn't know any better and were content to eat them untoasted.

    I will occasionally have an untoasted one if left with no choice, but this brings up the very interesting question (at least to me): do most people toast them or have them "raw"?
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #12 - November 30th, 2005, 8:05 am
    Post #12 - November 30th, 2005, 8:05 am Post #12 - November 30th, 2005, 8:05 am
    Gypsy Boy wrote:I will occasionally have an untoasted one if left with no choice, but this brings up the very interesting question (at least to me): do most people toast them or have them "raw"?


    It's a good question. If it's anywhere near fresh, I eat it un-toasted (not sure if I like the term "raw").

    It's a matter of temperature and texture for me. I don't like a bagel to be crispy on the outside in any way. Also, I don't like my cream cheese or lox to heat up from the toasted bagel. (And the idea of toasting something and letting it cool first seems really wrong to me).

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #13 - November 30th, 2005, 8:45 am
    Post #13 - November 30th, 2005, 8:45 am Post #13 - November 30th, 2005, 8:45 am
    My heritage - Philadelphia Jewish with a touch of Pennsylvania Dutch.

    My bagel preference - always toasted
    Every other Jew I know - always raw

    My family says - one would think you were raised by wolves

    ;)
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog. http://www.americanbrittanyrescue.org
  • Post #14 - November 30th, 2005, 8:54 am
    Post #14 - November 30th, 2005, 8:54 am Post #14 - November 30th, 2005, 8:54 am
    I almost always toast too, partially to account for a mediocre bagel--a real softy like a Kaufman or Leonard's bagel REALLY needs toasting, but even when I'm in a land of good bagel, like North Miami Beach, I tend to toast.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #15 - November 30th, 2005, 9:16 am
    Post #15 - November 30th, 2005, 9:16 am Post #15 - November 30th, 2005, 9:16 am
    I've never liked toast, except as part of a screen saver. (Or, come to think of it, a Howard Johnson's hot dog bun.) So I leave my bagels untoasted. But if I'm somewhere where it's gonna come toasted, I ask for light.

    Now that I think of it, I've never even owned a toaster or toaster oven...
  • Post #16 - November 30th, 2005, 10:08 am
    Post #16 - November 30th, 2005, 10:08 am Post #16 - November 30th, 2005, 10:08 am
    Lightly toasted, here.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #17 - November 30th, 2005, 10:13 am
    Post #17 - November 30th, 2005, 10:13 am Post #17 - November 30th, 2005, 10:13 am
    I'm certainly as goy as goy can be, but I like my bagels completely unmodified. No slicing, no butter, no toasting, no cream cheese, no nothing.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #18 - November 30th, 2005, 11:22 am
    Post #18 - November 30th, 2005, 11:22 am Post #18 - November 30th, 2005, 11:22 am
    Maybe its an age thing. As a kid I liked mushy white bread, soft rolls etc. As I get older give me toast unless its a crunchy crusted bread.
    Paulette
  • Post #19 - November 30th, 2005, 11:28 am
    Post #19 - November 30th, 2005, 11:28 am Post #19 - November 30th, 2005, 11:28 am
    WASP that I am, I'll skip the bagel and go for a nicely toasted English muffin.
  • Post #20 - November 30th, 2005, 11:38 am
    Post #20 - November 30th, 2005, 11:38 am Post #20 - November 30th, 2005, 11:38 am
    For me, the zenith of bagel eating is a fresh, properly chewy, untoasted, unadorned bagel that is still warm from the oven. While I could put some butter or cream cheese on it, I can't even contemplate toasting a bagel that is still warm from the baker's oven.

    Jonah

    P.S. I'm an ex N.Y. Jew who now has kids that like fluffy Einstein's bagels. Hopefully this is just a temporary teenage rebellion.
  • Post #21 - November 30th, 2005, 12:03 pm
    Post #21 - November 30th, 2005, 12:03 pm Post #21 - November 30th, 2005, 12:03 pm
    In my experience, a bagel reaches its peak 2-3 hous after baking and doesn't benefit from any toasting or reheating. But it then begins going downhill quickly. A light toasting can help, but it will never be as good as its peak.

    Bill/SFNM
  • Post #22 - December 1st, 2005, 5:43 pm
    Post #22 - December 1st, 2005, 5:43 pm Post #22 - December 1st, 2005, 5:43 pm
    I don't like toasted bagels for the same reason as Jonah -- if they're refrigerated I warm mine in the toaster oven at 350º for a few minutes to restore the crispness of the crust. (However, everyone else in my family likes theirs toasted.)

    BTW, for anyone in or near Evanston, the bagels at Bagel Art / New World Bagel Company (schizo store that goes by two name) at Dempster and Chicago Ave. are interesting as a change of pace -- I live two blocks away and have a taste for their sesame and poppy bagels at times because every square inch is absolutely covered with seeds. Better than Einstein in this regard. (And they do boil their bagels.)

    >>Brent
    "Yankee bean soup, cole slaw and tuna surprise."
  • Post #23 - December 1st, 2005, 11:33 pm
    Post #23 - December 1st, 2005, 11:33 pm Post #23 - December 1st, 2005, 11:33 pm
    When I get the bagel from NYB&B, I always eat one or two fresh and untoasted, but once they are no longer fresh, I like them nicely toasted.
  • Post #24 - December 2nd, 2005, 12:19 pm
    Post #24 - December 2nd, 2005, 12:19 pm Post #24 - December 2nd, 2005, 12:19 pm
    HI,

    I had breakfast at Once Upon A Bagel in Highland Park today. I asked the counterman how many customers get their bagels toasted, "50-50" was the answer. My preference is toasted.

    While I can eat a bagel 'raw,' I have a much harder time with an English muffin. MAG has a friend who works at Bays, which has allowed her to sample fresh English muffins that she raved about. By the time we get them there is significant time lapse since they were made, so toasting is the way to go. BTW - according to my made-in-England friend, crumpets and English muffins are the same beast.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #25 - December 2nd, 2005, 3:49 pm
    Post #25 - December 2nd, 2005, 3:49 pm Post #25 - December 2nd, 2005, 3:49 pm
    Cathy2 wrote: MAG has a friend who works at Bays, which has allowed her to sample fresh English muffins that she raved about.

    C2,

    I've had the fresh Bays English muffins and raved about them as well. While I'm an English muffin fan, with off the store shelf Bays being my brand of choice, there is a clear, noticeable difference between just off the production line and bought in a store.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #26 - December 2nd, 2005, 5:20 pm
    Post #26 - December 2nd, 2005, 5:20 pm Post #26 - December 2nd, 2005, 5:20 pm
    G Wiv wrote:While I'm an English muffin fan, with off the store shelf Bays being my brand of choice, there is a clear, noticeable difference between just off the production line and bought in a store.


    I think the same can be said of bagels, so I'll amend my "lightly toasted" preference as stated above to say "lightly toasted, unless they are just baked and still warm."
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #27 - February 18th, 2008, 9:02 pm
    Post #27 - February 18th, 2008, 9:02 pm Post #27 - February 18th, 2008, 9:02 pm
    I am ressurecting this post after a long period of dormancy to ask those involved....Were all of the delis involved in the test out of sesame bagels on the day of the bagel-off?

    I asked the counter man at once upon a bagel this evening why they were always out of sesame bagels in the afternoon/early evening and he said they are far and away the most popular variety. They are my favorite and the standard by which I compare a bagels apples to apples.

    I am curious about what most people who post here order as a default bagel.

    FWIW Kaufman's is my favorite Chicago-area bagel. I also like OUAB in Highland Park and consider their product to be very good bordering on very very good (just not great) and since they are so close to my home this is my default bagel. I am most consistently dissapointed with Bagel Country, i keep hoping something there will be good. Ny Bagels is also a favorite but inconvenient for me so often overlooked.
  • Post #28 - February 19th, 2008, 8:08 am
    Post #28 - February 19th, 2008, 8:08 am Post #28 - February 19th, 2008, 8:08 am
    Gypsy Boy wrote:I will occasionally have an untoasted one if left with no choice, but this brings up the very interesting question (at least to me): do most people toast them or have them "raw"?


    With bagels in Chicago, I toast medium whenever possible. The bagels here are too soft and cakey for my liking. In my book, "raw" is an apt word for them. NY bagels are better. I still toasted those when I could, though when it was a nice day and if I hadn't weighted myself with too many groceries shopping on the Upper West Side, I'd pick up a raw bagel with cream cheese from H&H to eat on my walk back to Morningside Heights. The only bagels I insist on always eating raw are Montreal-style bagels, which I grew up on. The only way to eat them is completely unadulterated--unsliced and undressed, fresh off the line and out of the bag.
  • Post #29 - February 19th, 2008, 10:45 am
    Post #29 - February 19th, 2008, 10:45 am Post #29 - February 19th, 2008, 10:45 am
    Sesame, toasted is the preference here. And yes, I've noticed that sesame tends to be the variety that gets 86'd first, at places which do run out.

    My favorite is NYB&B on Touhy but on LAZ's advice, I tried Chicago Bagel and Bialy on Milwaukee Ave in Wheeling and was very impressed. I'm not sure I could tell the difference between their product and NYB&B's product, even in a side by side test, which I have yet to try. Interestingly, it's run by the son of one of NYB&B's founders, so I'm guessing that the recipe and method are probably quite similar to those of NYB&B.

    FWIW, they also happen to sell some excellent rugulah there, too. I was astounded by how good they were, especially because the store-bought variety are usually pretty horrible. You could really taste the sour cream in these and they were immaculately tender and aromatic, too.

    =R=

    Chicago Bagel & Bialy II
    260 S. Milwaukee Ave
    Wheeling, IL 60090
    847 459-3632
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #30 - February 19th, 2008, 3:37 pm
    Post #30 - February 19th, 2008, 3:37 pm Post #30 - February 19th, 2008, 3:37 pm
    I'd like to buy bagels for my son's upcoming bris, and I have lots of discriminating New York bagel consumers coming. But I live in the South Loop, so sparing the time to go up to the 'burbs or even way North is difficult...

    Any recommendations on best bagels around downtown and further south?

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