Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eating NYC: Central Bagel, Jersey City, NJ

In this Eating NYC series, I've toured the Chelsea Market, lunched at Amy's Bread, feasted on Fat Witch brownies, downed dumplings in Chinatown, and compared champion chocolate chip cookies at Jacques Torres Chocolates and Levain Bakery - and now the last stop on my food-centric mini-tour of the City has me buying bagels at Central Bagel.

Any food lover worth their salt knows NYC's reputation for legendary bagels, but if you haven't heard of Central Bagel, you're not alone. In fact, there's nothing that sets this little bagel shop apart from the many thousands of others like it in the City - except that it's my sister's favorite local shop, and that's why we made our final stop here, to stock up on bagels for the long drive out west.

Most devoted city dwellers love their home for it's bustle, pace, and non-stop atmosphere, but devotees of suburban and rural America argue that the city is just too impersonal, that it's impossible to replicate suburban neighborliness in an urban environment. It's a bit of a broad statement, but one which I'll admit to embracing, at times - that is, until I visited Central Bagel with my sister.

Apart from producing some truly excellent bagels, the shop has a great small town feel. In the little over a year that my sister and her husband have been in the City, they've made friends and carved out a neighborhood existence for themselves - and this shop is a integral part of that existence, a permanent fixture of their Sunday morning routine.

The shop is owned by an Egyptian man whom my sister befriended, and whom I'd hoped to interview for the blog. Unfortunately, he was out on the day of our visit, but we still had the chance to chat to some of the employees. As we picked out our bagels, they said their goodbyes to my sister, and I'd like to think that her special connection to the place resulted in some particularly large and lovely bagels for us - because these doughboys were massive!

We walked away with a selection ranging from Egg and Everything, to Pumpernickel and Cinnamon Raisin, each a fantastic specimen of boiled-then-baked beauty. I think part of my love for bagels comes from their reputation as a not-so-good-for-you treat (and my fondness for any food that serves as a vehicle for cream cheese), but I'm also a great fan of their unique texture - the slightly tough skin yielding to a chewy, flavorful center. Only good soft pretzels come close to replicating that great combination (and they don't usually come with cream cheese).

When choosing bagels, I usually go straight for the Everything - it's an indecisive person's dream choice - but my sister's insider knowledge recommended the Cinnamon Raisin and the Pumpernickel. The Cinnamon Raisin were the largest of the lot, studded with soft raisins and swirled with rich veins of spices. These were excellent toasted, with a generous slick of cream cheese, though I also imagine they'd be great with peanut butter or jam. The real standouts, though, were the pumpernickel - dark, rich and ever so slightly sweet. I'm almost amazed to say it, but they didn't even need the cream cheese!

Although the bagels were delicious, the real highlight of out visit to Central Bagel was the glimpse it afforded of my sister's everyday life - and the surprising kindness and generosity of New Yorkers (okay, it's technically in Jersey City, but I think the typical city-dweller reputation holds). I know the City has a somewhat frigid, no-frills reputation, but based on my experience during this visit, this couldn't be further  from the truth. More than once, passers-by offered directions, advice, or recommendations (even unsolicited, a couple of times) and I held full-length, interesting conversations with strangers over dumplings in Chinatown and while riding the Metro to the Upper West Side. When it came time to close up the U-Haul and head west, I was almost reluctant to leave. Thankfully, we had a bag of bagels to keep us busy in the front seat - one last souvenir from a week spent eating NYC.


  1. Thanks Rachel for putting into words what I felt when I visited Rebecca's Bagel Shop. I remember the morning I went there to pick up our order of a dozen Pumpernickel yummies to take back home to Western New York. There was something so homey about walking out of Rebecca's flat and turning right at the corner and stepping into the warm, delicious smelling little establishment. The proprietor was there and popped an extra bagel into my bag and wished me a safe journey home, promising to look after Rebecca and Will for me.

  2. Oh, heck yes! I am so excited for perfect bagels when we go to NYC in a couple of weeks. I don't understand why their recipes don't flow into the Midwest, we need good bagels here too!

  3. I completely agree! In fact, your comment has inspired me to try making my own sometime. We're going to Matt's parents' for the holiday weekend so it will have to be after we get back, but I'm eager to give it a try. Meanwhile, you'll have to eat some good NYC bagels for me on your trip!

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