1. Forage (Lewiston, Maine)
What more can be said about the wonderful state of affairs that is Maine’s baking culture, except that if you don’t already know, you should probably take a short vacation there to find out. Not even in the most remote of states does the prospect of the bagel’s revival generate as much enthusiasm as it does here. (On this list, you’ll find three stores from Maine, although there may have been more.) Naturally leavened, long-fermented, wood-fired bagels have been around for a while, and when Allen Smith opened his shop in Lewiston over a decade ago, he wasn’t the first to experiment with the idea. However, Forage, which has since expanded to Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood, currently makes Maine’s best bagel, which is gorgeously light and beautifully structured, with an exterior that snaps and crackles like popcorn.
2. Gertie (Brooklyn, New York)
Melissa Weller, a master baker, is not one to allow any grass to grow under her feet. She has worked behind the scenes at some of New York’s most exclusive establishments over the last decade, including Per Se, Sadelle’s, and High Street on Hudson. The recently published cookbook author now oversees the pastry program at the trendy Williamsburg café located high over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Weller’s bagels, which first gained notoriety at Sadelle’s in SoHo and are among the city’s priciest, are in high demand on weekends, so early risers are encouraged to avoid disappointment. These bagels are bright and cheery; they’re light as air and seem to have a spring in their step.
3. Lenore’s Handmade Bagel Co. (Dallas, Texas)
Hopefully, American bagel culture will not be the same after this year—so many interesting pop-ups sprouted in the midst of the epidemic, some at a level of excellence never seen before in their individual locations. A husband and wife partnership in Dallas raised the standard by first acquiring high-quality, high-gluten Yecora Rojo flour from Austin’s Barton Springs Mill and then immediately setting it to work. Here is a bagel that is not just distinctly Texan, but also very great, in a region where businesses all too frequently attempt to relate themselves back to New York. A tiny price to pay for a look into the future is having to place orders online and pick them up at local coffee shops.
4. The Lox Bagel Shop (Columbus, Ohio)
The majority of the listed stores seem to have accidentally discovered a hybrid of New York and Montreal designs, or if they did it on purpose, they are reluctant to discuss it. The bakers at the best bagel shop in the hip state capital of Ohio take great pride in their hybrid invention. These are, essentially, Montreal bagels, except bigger. They’re so attractive on the surface that you may want to admire them for a while before cutting into them. However, on the inside, they’re smooth and soft, much like a New York bagel, so you can win at breakfast whether you use them for schmear, sandwiches, or simply sink your teeth into a new one, plain.
5. Maury’s Bagels (Los Angeles, California)
Jason Kaplan, previously of the Gjelina/Gjusta empire, has just entered the Los Angeles bagel industry, and he has gotten closer than anyone else to recreating the original New York taste. Kaplan’s little pop-up shop has now become a permanent fixture in beautiful Silver Lake. These traditional-style bagels are the right size, shape, and texture, and they come in convenient dozen packs.
6. Murray’s Bagels (Manhattan, New York)
There was a time when a commercial-grade toaster was a telltale sign of a top-tier store in New York City. The greatest bagel bakers used to take too much care in their job to let such nonsense go unchallenged; only a second-rate company would tolerate such a spectacle. You have to hand respect to this Greenwich Village institution; they put up quite a fight for quite some time. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a New York bagel shop knows that the customer is always right and may fight you and the other customers if necessary.
7. Myer’s Bagel Bakery (Burlington, Vermont)
It seems logical that the largest American city that is geographically closest in size to Montreal would be home to the most authentic Montreal-style bagel business found south of the border. Lloyd Squires, the owner, learned the ropes from Myer Lewkowicz at St. Viateur. While you may not immediately feel transported to Canada when you enter the no-frills, enormous store that is largely devoted to the bustling manufacturing line, you can be certain that you are quite near. Wonderfully rough and honey-flavored from their time in a wood oven, these bagels are a work of art. Don’t be suckered into ordering more than a fresh dozen; apart from the baking, there isn’t much going on at this establishment that you can’t do better yourself.
8. Native Bagel Co. (Berea, Kentucky)
I don’t see why a little town in Kentucky couldn’t support a great bagel store. Berea, Kentucky, with a population of 15,500 and home to Berea College, one of the most distinctive four-year colleges in the nation, isn’t exactly a speed bump, which is how Katie Startzman, a native of the Northeast who grew up eating bagels for breakfast, came to study English there and ultimately decided to remain. Her hand-rolled, traditional bagels are famous in town; order one topped with farm-fresh eggs from the university’s farm and some country ham.
9. New York Bagel & Bialy (Lincolnwood, Illinois)
New Yorkers who miss the city’s energy and vibrancy may find solace in the fact that nobody cares about a rat’s behind when they show up to this suburban, 24-hour vintage shop to share their thoughts, emotions, and ideas. These bagels look and taste just like New York bagels, which is to be expected given the name. If you’re from the Midwest, you know that sometimes when you take a bite, there’s just a little bit less of the chew than you’d want. This is one of the best (very) late-night snacks in Chicago.
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