It’s been more than 400 years since the first mention of the bagel was heard in Krakow, Poland. From 1610 on, bagels have rolled through the centuries, along an itinerary of growth and natural marketing, making their way across Europe and around the globe. I only wish I could dive into that time period and savor the bagels through the ages.
Today, bagels still carry their own culture and style—Montreal, New York and St. Louis, among others. They mark their territories with toppings as unique as the people who love them. They attract early-morning risers, such as myself, who follow the redolence of baking bagels.
Without eyesight, but with my other senses sharpened, I am always attracted to the smell of a bagel bakery at any reasonable distance within Boston and surrounding cities. So to write this article I put myself on the bagel circuit:
- The Bagel Table, Chestnut Hill
- Wicked Bagel, Arlington
- The Bagel Place, Newton
- Exodus Bagels, Jamaica Plain
- Bruegger’s Bagels, everywhere
- Bagelsaurus, Cambridge
- Finagle a Bagel, everywhere
- Kupel’s Bakery, Brookline
- Rosenfeld’s Bagels, Newton
- Iggy’s Bread, Cambridge
Although I am known to nosh in moderation, to complete my thorough research, I returned to some of the bagel shops more than once. What a sacrifice! (I did start a new cholesterol medication, but no doubt my numbers will still tick at the top as my waistline busts a few buttons.)
On one of my first bagel visits, I told my sighted guide, who walked with me, that I needed to pick up some lox.
The next thing I discovered, we had walked nearly two miles. I asked her, “Where are we headed?”
“Oh,” she said. “We just arrived at your destination—we’re in front of The Home Depot.”
“Why?” I asked disconcertingly.
“Well, you wanted locks, right?” she replied.
“Oy vey!” I said. “I meant lox! L-o-x!”
And that was how my journey began.
After as many bagels in as many weeks—and a lot of coffee—I knew it was time to come up with a random list of fine Bostonians who love bagels as much as I do.
Here’s what they had to say:
Marc Baker, CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies
Bagel: “I love a whole wheat everything bagel. The density and healthfulness of the whole wheat combined with the everything’s explosion of flavor makes it the perfect bagel for me.”
Gary D. Fireman, associate provost and professor of psychology at Suffolk University
Bagel: “I always order either everything or sesame seed. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be an everything bagel. If by combination you mean how do I like my bagels, then chive cream cheese, tomatoes and lox. In addition to the taste, this was the combination from my youth minus the lox, which was just available on special occasions. It brings me back every time.”
Bagel place: “Bergen Bagels in Brooklyn, New York.”
Gail P. Elson, retired speech therapist
Bagel: “I used to eat bagels with cottage cheese and jam every morning for breakfast, but haven’t done that for several years. Now when I eat them once in a while, I prefer sesame bagels with cream cheese and lox, probably because it seems to be the traditional way to eat them.”
Bagel place: “Rosenfeld’s in Newton.”
Arielle Cedar, registered nurse
Bagel: “My mom was born and raised in Montreal. Every summer and winter my family would go up to our cottage north of Montreal, where we would join my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Every morning we’d have toasted Montreal bagels, and every morning one of us kids would have the honored task of being the ‘toaster’; in other words, we were responsible for putting the bagels in the toaster and then distributing them. My favorite bagel is the traditional Montreal bagel. They are made in wood ovens that are technically no longer up to code, but are able to stay open because the Montreal bagel is so iconic. The bagels are smaller and less chewy than the New York bagel. They come in sesame seed or poppy seed and have a hint of sweetness as they are boiled in honey water. I enjoy my Montreal bagel with cream cheese or Havarti, topped with lox, scallions and tomato.”
Bagel place: “Rosenfeld’s in Newton for their pumpernickel bagel.”
Alan Ticotsky, educator
Bagel: “Whole wheat with cream cheese, onion, tomato and lox. I like the blending of tastes, the bite of onion, the freshness of tomato, the salty tang of lox and the smoothness of cream cheese. Whole wheat bagels have a nice combination of crustiness and soft, chewy texture.”
Bagel place: “Wicked Bagel in Lexington.”
Barney Frank, lecturer and former congressman
Bagel: “Plain toasted with cream cheese and onion because of the taste.”
Bagel place: “I don’t have a ‘go-to’ place for bagels.”
Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!”
Bagel: “Everything bagel, preferably from H&H Bagels in New York City (sorry, Boston). My favorite combination is the classic lox, tomato, onions and a schmear. It tastes like my childhood, specifically the parts of my childhood spent in the company of my grandmother, Rose Weinstein Scholnick, better known as ‘Dubie.’”
Bagel place: “I’ll always love Zabar’s, but seriously, any New York City-style bagel shop will do. There’s something about getting it wrapped in white wax paper, along [with] a Greek coffee cup.”
Sofia Schlozman, college student
Bagel: “Everything bagel with runny egg, avocado and cheese. I first had this type of bagel while celebrating a friend’s birthday at a local bagel shop. Not only is it a delicious combination, but it also reminds me of good times spent with loved ones. I’ve tried to recreate it at home many times since that first experience.”
Alison Goldberg, children’s book author
Bagel: “Sunflower bagel with maple walnut cream cheese. It is sweet and salty, perfectly chewy, with a little bit of crunch.”
Bagel place: “When I was kid, we went to Rosenfeld’s in Newton on Sunday mornings to get poppy, sesame, plain, egg and any flavors that were still hot. Since we always had Rosenfeld’s bagels at family brunches, I made sure to have them at my own children’s naming ceremonies, and sometimes their birthday parties too.”
Nancy Schon, public art sculptor, creator of “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture on the Boston Common
Bagel: “Raisin bagels and onion bagels and sometimes plain, depending on my mood.”
Bagel place: “I usually buy Bruegger’s Bagels, as they have a shop next to the Star Market where I shop. They give a ‘baker’s dozen,’ which means 13 rather than 12.”
Erin Cantor, student at Skidmore College
Bagel: “Cinnamon raisin. My favorite things to eat with cinnamon raisin are peanut butter and melted butter. I think I like cinnamon raisin with peanut butter because my parents would sometimes feed it to me for breakfast as a child. I also love egg-and-cheese sandwiches on plain bagels!”
Bagel place: “Bruegger’s Bagels in Belmont Center.”
Adele Fleet Bacow, president of Community Partners Consultants
Bagel: “An Iggy’s toasted everything bagel with butter, Alpine Lace Swiss Cheese and sliced tomato.”
Bagel place: “My kitchen table sitting across from my husband with a cup of earl grey tea. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Ed Eglitis, owner of The Bagel Table in Chestnut Hill
Favorite bagel: “Whole wheat everything with our ‘Freddie from Chelsea’: cold smoked lox with chive cream cheese, tomato and onion.”
What makes your bagel shop successful? “High-quality, traditional bagel-shop fare with large portions.”
How long have you been in business? “One-and-a-half years.”
Best comment by a customer: “’Whenever I’m here I feel like I’m back in my New York neighborhood.’”
Most popular bagel: “Plain, everything and sesame.”
The key “ingredient” that makes a bagel bakery successful: “Quality and variety.”
In closing, the new and vintage bagel shops had me walking in U-turns back to the counter for a toasted bagel, with yet another dash back for a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
But my journey brought me home to Rosenfeld’s in Newton, where I had first come in the 1970s when I still had eyesight. I will always relish their classic bagels, with cream cheese and lox—a tradition in its own.
If you’re in vogue with each decade, few or many, you might end up with the classic trend of what was “cool” then and still “hot” now; this is how I think of Rosenfeld’s.
Of all the bagel shops mentioned, they each offer something unique that makes them a trip worth pursuing again.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
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