This post is all about bagels. And oatmeal.
But mostly bagels.
One year ago, Allison and I set out on a challenge: to try the top bagel shops in New York City. We found a list of the top 16 bagel shops and vowed to try each of them before the year was over. (Sixteen places may not sound like a lot to do in one year, but if you’ve seen a NY-style bagel before, you’ll know that it’s a rather gluttonous experience to be enjoyed in moderation…)
Two Sundays ago, on the 23rd, we finally finished the #bagelchallenge. Here’s everything I learned along the way–but before I do that, I just want to say that I don’t want to TOUCH a bagel for at LEAST three months. Vegetables, please…
1. Bagel shops know how to make some stellar vegan (tofu) cream cheeses.
In the beginning, I only ordered PB&J. I had tried vegan cream cheese before, and I wasn’t impressed. However, one spot along the way did not have PB&J, so I tried their plain tofu cream cheese. I was stunned! It was delicious! Of course, I always scrape off about 1/2 of it, which is what lets everyone know I’m not from NYC… 🙂
2. Get the bagel you want and don’t bother with what’s “healthy.”
I had this revelation near the beginning of the challenge, thank goodness. I had always ordered whole wheat bagels (because I’m ~so healthy~), but when we visited Kossar’s Bialys–a no-frills spot in the Lower East Side–they were out. I think I had a momentary breakdown…and may have uttered an overdramatic statement to the person behind the counter…but finally settled on a cinnamon raisin bagel. After recovering from the initial shock (WHITE FLOUR, OH NO!), I eventually decided to relish this excuse to eat the cinnamon raisin bagel.
This was an eye-opening experience. First of all, this bagel was five times more enjoyable than the average whole wheat bagel. Second of all, when it comes to eating a piece of dense bread that’s bigger than your head, who cares about whether it’s whole wheat? From that point on, I almost always ordered cinnamon raisin (unless the place had another unique kind that I wanted to try).
3. Any bagel with “stuff” on top = not vegan.
Speaking of unique kinds of bagels, one of my favorite bagels in the challenge was at Ess-a-Bagel. It was a teensy tiny shop on First Avenue, and it was packed to capacity by a line that literally snaked around the entire shop and then out the door. Both Allison and I ordered the oat bran bagel, and were stunned. These were the highest quality bagels we had experienced throughout the entire challenge. Perfectly warm, soft, and pleasantly chewy on the inside surrounded by a thin layer of crispness. Unfortunately, I learned later that bagel shops use an egg wash to attach the “stuff” to the top of bagels (like those oat flakes, or onion pieces, or poppy seeds, etc.). Bummer.
4. Some bagels are so fresh that you can eat them plain.
The Bagel Hole in Brooklyn is basically the definition of a “hole in the wall” business (hence the name, I assume). It’s a tiny little place with no indoor seating and almost no options for spreads and toppings. I dreaded completing this part of the challenge because I knew there was no peanut butter or tofu cream cheese. I actually packed a to-go packet of PB&Co Dark Chocolate Dreams to spread on top, but I realized after my first bite that I wouldn’t need it. This bagel was steaming. It was erupting with cinnamon-raisin flavors. Perfect.
5. PB&J is always a great option.
PB&J started as my go-to before I discovered tofu cream cheese. After that, I was always a little disappointed when a shop didn’t have any, but I was always happy to “settle” for PB&J.
I’m always stingy with peanut butter at home, so it’s always a treat to receive a bagel that’s oozing excess peanut butter. I loved how this was almost always available. Tip: some places don’t include it on the menu, but 9 times out of 10, when I asked for it, they said yes.
6. Flagels are awesome.
Flagels are “flat bagels”…because New York loves combining words to make innovative foods (e.g. the cronut). They are brilliant. I actually experience terrible stomach aches (I call it “bagel belly”) after eating most bagels because they are so BIG and…well…void of nutrition. It’s like squishing half a loaf of bread into a small ball and eating it. Anyway, the flagel is much easier for my stomach to digest because there’s simply less of it. However, they have the same surface area of a regular bagel, so you get to take just as many lovely bites (unlike a mini bagel, where you only take a few bites and you’re done). Love those flagels!!
7. Bagels are best fresh.
It seems obvious. All bread is most incredible when it’s fresh. However, bagels take this rule to a whole new level. They maintain their superior flavor and texture for about 1-2 hours, and then they quickly deteriorate. Our worst experience was at David’s Bagels, where I ate a bagel so tough and chewy that my jaw hurt after just a few bites. Luckily for them, I recognize that we went at a tricky time of day (around 2 pm) when the bagels were probably not too fresh. They had to have made the top 16 list for a reason, so I will give the benefit of the doubt. (But seriously, you can tell how dense and stiff that bagel was just from the picture.)
8. Try new things.
Before the bagel challenge, I always ordered a whole wheat bagel, toasted, with PB&J. Quickly into the challenge, I began ordering new ones simply because that wasn’t an option everywhere, but then I started doing it by choice to experience new flavors and combinations, such as this spelt bagel from Brooklyn Bagel (which, surprisingly, is not in Brooklyn!).
This particular bagel shop was actually my favorite of the challenge. That spelt bagel was delightful, and this was one of the few (maybe only?) that also served quality espresso (yay for Toby’s Estate Coffee!). Most bagel shops in the city serve standard, uninspiring drip coffee…which I’m not a fan of (call me a coffee snob). I loved enjoying an espresso with this bagel.
8. RAISIN WALNUT TOFU CREAM CHEESE FOR THE WIN.
If you ask for my favorite “bagelry” of the challenge, I would tell you three: Absolute Bagel, Brooklyn Bagel, and Ess-a-Bagel. What did all these places have in common (in addition to perfect bagels)? Raisin-Walnut Tofu Cream Cheese. The majority of the places we visited had plain, scallion, or vegetable tofu cream cheese, but only these three offered raisin-walnut. The perfection of that spread automatically elevated the experience of any bagel. I could eat that stuff plain with a spoon (and I definitely didn’t scrape off the excess from these bagels).
And with that, I decided to commemorate this year of bagels by making my ideal bagel as baked oatmeal. And no, it didn’t give me bagel belly. 🙂
What you'll need:
- 1/2 cup's worth of peeled and diced zucchini
- 1/3 cup milk of choice, or water
- 1/2 cup rolled oats (I use Country Choice Organic)
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- handful of raisins
- walnut-raisin cream cheese for topping (I used Tofutti brand)
How to make it:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F and spray a single-serving ramekin with non-stick spray.
- Puree first two ingredients together in a food processor.
- Stir in remaining ingredients (except the raisins and cream cheese) until combined. Alternatively, you can pulse it all together a few times in the food processor, depending on how much you want the oats to keep their original shape and texture.
- Transfer to the ramekin and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the top is no longer doughy.
- While the oatmeal is baking, prepare your cream cheese mixture.
- Let the oatmeal cool for a few minutes, and then top with the cream cheese mixture. Enjoy! 🙂