Bagels. They can really run the gamut. There are some pretty awful bagels out there. And even the awful ones range on a scale of 1 to 10 of awfulness. If you’re really stuck and you really want a bagel you can end up eating something with the texture of rubber, cake, or cardboard– none of that has anything to do with bagels.
Bagels should be chewy with a slight crispy/crunch on the surface. They’re not soft but they’re a little soft. When you give them a squeeze they should barely yield. But they should yield some. The outside has a slight sheen. The inside breadiness has holes here and there. A good bagel is ridiculously good. A bad bagel is something like hell.
I lived in NYC for 30 years. The last 10 of which were in the Bronx. Spuyten Duyvil to be exact-Riverdale by its more familiar name. There were at least 3 bagel bakeries in this smallish neighborhood. And I investigated each one for my column in the Riverdale Press called “Riverdale Eats.” What a treat to see the process and even get a chance to make a bagel.
They make the dough in one of those huge mixers. Ingredients were a bit of a secret for each bakery but flour, salt, yeast, and malt seemed to be the staples. They make a BIG batch of dough. Slap in on a work table. Cut it into smaller slabs that get shaped into bagels by a wonderful bagel-shaping machine. They proof them in their bagel shapes then boil them in a big vat of water before they’re lined up on wooden planks that fit into a rotating oven (looks like a kind of ferris wheel).
In the Bronx I had a friend that came for breakfast on most Sunday mornings. He lived downtown in the Village and would stop at Russ & Daughters to get some whitefish salad. I picked up the bagels from Rolen Bagels or Bagel Corner (same owners in Riverdale but Riverdalians swore that the bagels were different in each bakery although the owners told me ingredients and process were exactly the same) (still I preferred Bagel Corner-you’re right, they are on the corner). Once in a while, along with the whitefish salad he would bring bagels from Russ & Daughters. They weren’t as good as my Bronx bagels (altho I suspect Russ & Daughters didn’t bake them themselves but got them from some other Manhattan bagel source). When I lived in Manhattan I swore by H & H Bagels but lost interest once I tasted my new neighborhood bagels.
Oh, yes, it goes on and on. Talk to a New Yorker about bagels and you’ll be there for hours. And invariably the part about New York water will come up. Is it true? Do NY bagels and NY pizza taste better because of the NY water?
And what’s all this have to do with Nashville? Well, I got a bakery in Bellevue that gets their bagel dough from the Bronx. Bakes ’em up perfectly and now I get to have Bronx-originated bagels any ol’ time! Where in the Bronx they get it I don’t know but I don’t care. They have perfect bagels EVERY time.
City Limits Bakery & Cafe on Clofton Drive is the place you want to be. It’s a hidden gem that only Bellevue locals seem to know about (and now I go blabbing about it — don’t ruin it guys by making it too popular around town, it’s perfect!) Even though it’s a local place it’s almost always packed (except on weekday afternoons around 3-4 when it’s quiet and I like to go there to write).
BTW they’ve got way more than bagels. Yummy muffins (I like the orange blossom one). Other sweet treats: brownies, danishes, scones, more. AND the main draw is their food-food. Sandwiches, salads, soups (they do a City Max special: half sandwich with soup or salad). The atmosphere is airy and tranquil and friendly. You can bring your computer and park all day but they don’t have WIFI (which is a good thing, otherwise I’d move in). You’ll want to adopt everyone who works there because they’re so NICE.
And…added bonus: right behind the bakery are train tracks and every once in a while a humongous freight train goes by, blowing its whistle and giving you (if you step outside and go to the side of the building) a great close-up view of the power that moves our country! (An aside: my band Duette does a song called “The Old Hickory Commuter Train” …we shot our video for the song from this train-barreling vantage point– we’re still thrilled.)
Oh, and, you can eat outside, too.
Let me know if you try the bagel. And let me know what you think. We can argue. Come on, it’s fun.