For our next installment in a series on the best of what Greater Morningside has to offer: bagels (with apologies to those celebrating Yom Kippur).
In order to maintain at least the pretence of fairness, in choosing bagel places to review, I stuck with those that either explicitly define themselves as bagelries (meaning they probably make them on site) or that feature bagels prominently. For the sake of uniformity, I have based my judgments on the whole wheat or multigrain option, usually with plain tofu cream cheese (I eat what I like, ok?). And finally, be advised that the best time to get a bagel anywhere is going to be in the morning, when they’re freshest. I have tried to rate the lunchtime bagels, so as to avoid unfair staleness differentials.
Lenny’s Bagels – 98th
Lenny’s, a small New York chain like Pinnacle and Strokos, is a little bit of a shlep – and although it’s not a bad option if you happen to be down in the 90s for whatever reason, you can certainly do better. The bagel itself, while properly chewy on the outside, has a drier consistency inside and is somewhat unevenly shaped, throwing the schmear-to-starch ratio out of whack in places. They do have an adequate array of spreads and bagel varieties, including a few unique items such as a delicious-looking bagel called the Ali Baba, involving walnuts and chocolate chips.
The inside feels dingy and dark; take your bagel to Riverside a block down if it’s sunny.
Nussbaum & Wu – 112th
Nussbaum is Morningside’s all-purpose refueling station that is actually bearable to sit in for any length of time, and though the star of the menu might be the paninis, bagel baskets against the back wall start full and are empty by the end of the day. These specimens are a little crusty for my taste, but more than serviceable, especially if you’re hungry—they’re not quite as large as Pick-a-Bagel downtown, but still the biggest in the hood (read this 2003 Times piece for more background on the bagel size debate). Besides the basic spreads, Nussbaum has a variety of sandwich fillings on order, although eating these things sandwich-style is more than this reviewer can handle.
Broadway Bagels – 103rd
Despite the neon sign promising HOT BAGELS, my first Broadway Bagels experience was disappointing—a big, bready thing that felt like a project to get through rather than a meal to enjoy. A subsequent trial has redeemed the place, although I now feel that the bagel is smaller than necessary, and slightly card-board like. Not entirely unappetizing, but also suspiciously erratic. Furthermore, the bagel accoutrements are not attractively displayed, and I certainly wouldn’t want to stay long in the cavernous, diner-like seating area. I think Broadway Bagel’s problem might be trying to do too many things at once: photographs outside display egg dishes, waffles, everything but the circular form I seek. There is little evidence of a commitment to the food item for which the place is named.
Absolute Bagels – 107th
When I started out to do this review, I knew that I was wasting my time: ultimately, there’s really no point in comparing anything with Absolute Bagels. For the sake of open-mindedness, I’ve given other places a fair shake, but long ago concluded that Absolute’s perfectly sized, exquisitely textured, delicately flavored starchy rounds are the alpha and omega of Morningside bageldom. The shop itself is frighteningly efficient, dispatching even the long line that spills out the door on Sunday mornings with relative speed. Its shiny, brightly-lit deli case has every type of spread you could dream of, from chicken salad to veggie tofutti.
This is a bagel joint in its purest form, with the ovens visible in the back and no menu fripperies to detract from the main event. And for proof that not everything good in New York is overpriced, these come cheapest of all bagels I’ve reviewed so far—just two bucks for a multigrain with tofu (less for regular cream cheese). The only problem is wanting another when you’re done with the first.
Other places to get your fix nearby: Hamdel, Morton Williams, Hot & Crusty (ugh, that name), Westside, and occasionally Starbucks have bagels. Street carts bagels can also do in a pinch—probably the cheapest, best form of caloric intake you’ll find in the area, Koronets excepted.
Worth investigating further south: Tal Bagels on 96th and the famed H&H at 76th.