So, who is turning out the best bagels of our time?
It’s a tough one to test in a blind tasting because you want all the bagels to be same day fresh – just hours out of the oven if you can.
I gathered 10 friends at our home one recent Sunday for a bagel tasting and judging and a lox and bagels brunch. After a lot of research, many conversations with the management of different bakeries and a few phone conversations, I decided the competitors would be Brooklyn Bagel Bakery, The Bagel Broker and Western Bagel.
All are located in Los Angeles, which is too bad. I would love to have had Zingerman’s from Ann Arbor Michigan represented. atLarrys.com co-host Larry Sheingold and my friend Jim Hayes would argue Zingerman’s might be the best deli in the nation. It would be hard to argue against that because these two and their wives travel far and wide in search of great food. But there was no way to get Zingerman’s bagels to our table for same day tasting.
Same is true of H&H in New York, that city’s biggest bagel bakery and possibly the largest in the world. Day old bagels would be the best we could do.
Larry Sheingold touts a place in Arcata CA called Los Bagels, again too far for same day tasting. You might want to jump on over to http://www.atLarrys.com to read Larry’s recommendation of this unique place born of a melding of Latino and Jewish culture. Type Los Bagels in the slot for “search for restaurant by name” and click on “go”. While you’re there, take a look at Larry’s biography to see what kind of unique person would discover such a place.
We filtered out several other L.A. bagel bakers because we either didn’t think their product measured up to the three finalists, or because we got no cooperation when we tried to research their history and production data.
All bagels presented in the tasting were bought fresh at the bakery just hours before the judges arrived at our house. Judges had the option of tasting the bagels without adornment, with Philadelphia whipped cream cheese, with hand cut belly lox from Brent’s deli, or with a combination of cream cheese and lox. You can read about Brent’s also at http://www.atLarrys.com
We provided the judges with tastes of plain bagels, onion bagels and sesame seed bagels from each of the three bakeries.
The judging panel consisted of five females and five males. There were five Jews and five non-Jews. Our youngest judge was five years old. All others ranged in age from 42 to 71 years old. Four had lived in New York for some part of their lives, or were born there. One had roots in Boston and another in Chicago.
There is a certain logic to the bakeries selected for the tasting. Western Bagel dominates the Los Angeles market. It has 11 retail outlets; it supplies 75 delis and restaurants in the area. It’s been around since 1947 and was the first bagel bakery ever to locate in Los Angeles.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery has been in operation since 1953 and has been headquartered near downtown L.A. since 1965. It has no retail outlets other than the actual bakery site, but also supplies many of the city’s top delis. And how can you do a bagel tasting without including some place that tracks back to New York, even if it’s only in the name.
Both Western Bagel and Brooklyn Bagel Bakery are owned an operated today by descendants of their founders.
We included The Bagel Broker in our tasting because no such event would be complete without a bakery located in the historic heartland of the L.A. Jewish Community – the Beverly / Fairfax area. We spoke with a number of friends who live in and around the area and many of them pointed to the Broker as having the best bagels in the neighborhood.
Each judge was asked to award 3 points to his or her first choice among each type of bagel, 2 points for the second choice, and 1 point for the third choice. If any bagel was thought to be totally inadequate, the judge could award 0 points.
We won’t claim the winners are the best bagels anywhere, or even the best in California. Those are titles that will have to be left to the subjective judgments of individual tastes until we figure out some way to put same-day fresh bagels from far flung bakeries across the land on the same table at the same time. But here are the results of our tasting:
Western Bagel – 20 points
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery – 19 points
The Bagel Broker – 19 points
A squeaker. Western Bagel was rated tops by 4 of the 10 judges. No bakery failed to be rated tops by at least 2 judges.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery – 27 points
Western Bagel – 19 points
The Bagel Broker – 14 points
A run-a-way. Brooklyn Bagel Bakery was rated the best by 7 of the 10 judges and number 2 by the other 3 judges.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery – 24 points
The Bagel Broker – 18 points
Western Bagel – 16 points
Another run-a-way, with Brooklyn Bagel Bakery winning top ranking by 6 of the 10 judges.
After the judging was completed, everyone stuck around for lox sandwiches, coffee and rugula from Brent’s deli.
What’s up next? We’re exploring subjects for taste judging in other parts of the state. Some of the suggestions so far include chocolate chip cookies, sushi, gnocchi, burgers and hot dogs. Any ideas? Just pass them along in the comments section below.