Not all bodega bagels are created equal. There's an estimated 12,000 independently-owned bodegas in the city, and each one chooses its own bagel supplier. Eater NY brought senior critic Robert Sietsema six bagels from various city bodegas for a taste test, with the criteria that they had to be eaten only with cream cheese. Here's what he thought of each one, labeled by the wholesaler that made the bagel.
1) Just Bagels: This is a Bronx wholesaler that supplies to hundreds of bodegas and delis. This plain bagel was picked up at a clean bodega in Bushwick that looked like it had been recently renovated. It had clearly been boiled before baking. It felt a little bit stale and lacked a proper bagel hole, but it was nicely caramelized on the surface. Overall though, it was not great, Sietsema said. "This bagel has kind of a styrofoam texture in the middle," he remarked. "It's okay if you're hungry. It's falling apart inside, not very good." Crumbs from this bagel filled the plate it was on.
2) Palagonia: This is a Brownsville, Brooklyn wholesale bakery that also makes other pastries. It was picked up from a relatively small and dirty bodega in Bushwick near the Knickerbocker M stop. This whole wheat bagel turned out to be "damn good," Sietsema said. "Chewy, nicely browned, boiled," he remarked. "It has that bagel resilience, to be bitten and fight back." It was the best of the bunch.
3) Narrows: Sietsema picked up a bagel from his own local West Village bodega, and the owner told him it was from a place called Narrows. Further information about the wholesaler was unavailable. "It's dense, in the way that the first one was not dense," Sietsema said. "It has kind of funny lacerations on top. They're abusing them in some way."
4) Rockland Bakery: This bakery in Nanuet, New York also sells other baked goods. A Vox Media colleague picked up an everything bagel from a clean but inconsistently stocked bodega in Bed-Stuy, off of the Bedford-Nostrand G stop. It clearly had sesame, poppy, garlic, and onion on it, but it was hard to tell what else composed the "everything" name. It was a middle-of-the-road bagel. "It's not as sweet, not as dense," Sietsema said. "A bit lackluster."
5) Grimaldi's Bakery: Based in Ridgewood, Queens, Grimaldi's supplies to some 1,500 bodegas, delis, grocery stores, and small coffee shops. It also sells other baked goods. Some of the best bodega sandwiches along Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick sell Grimaldi's bread. The bagels are definitely larger and steamed, with a funny indentation on the bottom. "This bagel looks a bit ill," Sietsema observed. When cut, a knife went through it like bread. "I can see why a lot of bodega consumers prefer the steamed bagel," Sietsema said. "They like its ability to be more sandwich-like. This fucker is falling apart as I cut it. Still, not a bad texture in the middle." Like the Just Bagels bagel, this one also had "the crumbly disease," where little bits of the bagel ended up on the table. That said, it was not a bad option. "I like the color. The flavor's not bad," Sietsema said. "It's like a kaiser roll."
6) New Yorker Bagels: This bakery in Long Island City, Queens supplies to about 900 coffee carts and 900 bodegas. It specializes in bagels and bialys. This bagel came straight from the factory. Though the company makes both boiled and steamed bagels, Sietsema sampled the steamed one, which is more commonly found at coffee carts and bodegas. It held up pretty well. "It's 80 percent up to the level of a boiled bagel," he said. It, too, suffered from "the flaking disease," where many crumbs ended up sprinkling the table. "Bagel dandruff," Sietsema said. "It's all over my pants now." But the final assessment was that it held together pretty well for what it was. "Of the steamed bagel, this comes closest to a kettle boiled bagel," he says.
Ranking: Palagonia, Narrows, New Yorker Bagels, Rockland, Grimaldis, Just Bagels
Final thoughts: "Bodega bagels are good. They're utilitarian. I love utilitarian foods. Few of them rise to the level of bagels made in bagelries, [though]. Bagelries are specialists. ...If you specialize in a certain kind of baked good, it's just likely to be better. ...Maybe they should reinvent [the bodega bagel]. Make it square and without a hole, don't call it a bagel. There's all this baggage with the bagel that goes way back."