For my maiden bagel tasting, I wanted to assume a beginner’s palette, body and mind. I wanted to remember (had I ever really known?) why the experiencing of eating a bagel is singular, and what may improve, or ruin, that journey.
Bagel Hole seemed as good a place to start as any. Not only is it 0.3 miles from my front door (I have all bagel joints sorted by distance in a Google Sheet using a custom formula), but its awning quietly boasts that they are “Rated #1 Best Bagels in NYC by seriouseats.com”. Who better to set my bar than the local bagel superstars?
It turns out, I did remember, at least roughly, that eating a bagel can be a truly special experience, as it was with this Bagel Hole bagel.
For my bagel binge, I had decided to order an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese from each bagel joint so I could more thoroughly explore the nuances between bagels, without concerning myself with different ingredients or flavor profiles that may inappropriately influence my impression. After all, an extraordinary bagel isn’t just about the bagel: it is just as much about the filling (in my case, scallion cream cheese, but don’t discount the legitimacy of opting for additional accoutrement like tomatoes or fish).
Yes, we will evaluate the mouth feel of these bagels, and the flavor of the dough, but the other flavors that are presented with the bagel create the experience, and it is the complete creation that we are scrutinizing, not only its constituent parts.
An everything bagel is a bagel topped with what I had assumed was just a salty, herb-alicious crust. Upon closer inspection however, I found that (at least this Bagel Hole bagel) was actually adorned with flecks of salt, pieces of roasted garlic, a smattering of sesame seeds, and poppy seeds, too. This is Bagel Hole’s “everything” and I will be curious if other bagels are similarly crafted. In this case, the mixture of these three ingredients was skillful: a salty backdrop elevated the sweetness of the roasted garlic as it melted in my mouth, while the poppy seeds kept my tongue interested in the texture of the whole mélange. No one flavor was overpowering – certainly no small feat.
At Bagel Hole, they will not toast your bagel, and there’s a reason: they are perfect as-is. They are well-portioned at a size that will leave you neither famished nor over-stuffed, and they are cooked to perfection, such that a toaster would dry out the delicious moisture latent in the dough. The outside of the bagel is crispy enough that the bagel keeps its round shape, but not so crispy that you lose precious flakes of bagel when you bite into it. And when you do finally bite into it, you are greeted with a soft inner bagel that decelerates your teeth just so, keeping your jaws pleasantly engaged in the whole ordeal. The texture isn’t so much fluffy as it is bouncy, or buoyant, and as you chew, you feel like you are being nourished, as opposed to the let-down one may feel with a croissant, or the looming lethargy one can expect when eating something with the density of a pound cake.
Finally, all is for naught without the correct filling-to-bagel ratio. Upon reflection, I believe that the correct ratio should leave the eater tasting both bagel and filling with equal intensity. With scallion cream cheese, you have a shmear with exceptional potential. You’re looking for the fresh crunch you feel when biting into green onion, and of course you are looking for a cream cheese with a texture and flavor that is rich enough to evoke cheesiness, but light enough to not be sticky or resist mixing with the other bagel flavors (this is why I believe room temperature cream cheese is ideal). The cream cheese on this Bagel Hole bagel was the surprising crown jewel, the missing symphonic note, the subtle magic that made my mouth and heart sing. The creaminess melted in my mouth almost immediately, and bridged the flavor gap between the bitter tang of the scallions and the sweetness of the bagel dough seamlessly.
In the final analysis, the perfect bagel is all about balance, and Bagel Hole threads the needle like a #1 Rated Bagel Shop should.
Bagel score: 19 bagels
(Bagel score is out of 20 bagels)