Like many of New York’s most iconic foods, the origins of the everything bagel are in dispute. What’s not debatable is the relatively modern phenomenon in which this bread roll was nearly eclipsed by its seasonings — an inevitable outcome once customers began to fetishize the bagel and crave its innumerable variations. David Gussin of Queens claims to have invented the everything bagel in 1980 as he was sweeping up the spices and seeds that had accumulated at the bottom of a bagel oven in Howard Beach. But then marketer Seth Godin pointed out you couldn’t make an everything bagel with leftover seeds, because if you baked them a second time they would burn.
Godin says he conceived the everything bagel in 1977 (a claim which he now says was tongue in cheek), and even Joe Bastianich claims to have invented it while stoned, but doesn’t say exactly when. Really, it doesn’t matter who created the everything bagel; it’s something that sprang up and became a full blown phenomenon as bagel flavorings evolved over the past decades, the result of a quest for a bagel that would satisfy all tastes. But it also came to symbolize the universal desire to indulge in everything at once, without apologies. The typical everything bagel might be topped with any combination of poppy, sunflower, or sesame seeds; onion and garlic flakes; black pepper and coarse sea salt, plus other random flavorings at the whim of the baker.
I was thinking about the everything bagel and its symbolic power as I was biting down on an everything croissant from Daily Provisions at Manhattan West Plaza. It was in many ways a textbook croissant of the dark, over-baked type now popular, only shaped like a pain au chocolat, stubby and bulbous. It had been sprinkled with everything spices, in this case mainly sesame and poppy seeds with a few browned flakes of garlic and onion. But a surprise was in store: By the second bite, soft cream cheese, still warm, began oozing out.
I decided to launch into a study of the contemporary spread of everything bagel spices.
My next example was just up 10th Avenue at Finn’s Bagels. There I spotted a whole wheat everything bagel, which also featured oats. It made me wonder, what would happen if you put everything spices on a cinnamon raisin bagel? (No one has tried this yet as far as I know.) Another example was an everything egg bagel I’d recently enjoyed at Terrace Bagels in Windsor Terrace. I had my whole wheat everything at Finn’s schmeared with olive cream cheese, which led me to further speculate: What other cream cheeses are good to go on an everything bagel?
In subsequent days, I had another everything croissant, this one shaped like a brioche with nothing inside at Blue Bottle Coffee, where it is a frequent offering. It, too, emphasized the seeds, rather than the onion and garlic; it was also a little saltier than Daily Provision’s everything bagel and a little sparser in its strew of toppings.
A few bagels and croissants later, it seems like the floodgates had opened at that point because I found myself sampling everything everywhere. Most astonishing, perhaps, was the everything doughnut at the Doughnut Project in Greenwich Village. Adding savory to sweet, it started with a cake doughnut liberally topped with white vanilla frosting, onto which the everything seasonings were thickly applied. Oddly, it worked, with the seasonings dampening the sweetness somewhat to make a perfect brunch dish.
Also in the astonishing category, I prepared to order online from Stretch Pizza at Breads Bakery one evening, and discovered that Wylie Dufresne was offering an everything pizza. Could it be any good? Well it was, with chopped chives added to its cheesy, seedy magnificence. Perhaps fresh chives should become a regular feature of the everything toppings mix.
Another revelation was the yellow squash and goat cheese danish at Mel Bakery on the Lower East Side. You guessed it — the Danish was further covered with everything seasonings. It had sold out the day I visited, leaving one lonely example for me to gawk at through glass. And imagine my surprise upon opening the menu of Casa Mono that same evening and finding a gorgeous plate of bone marrow littered with everything seasoning, which seems about as far as the concept could be stretched. In this case, everything apparently includes caviar.
I also discovered that the notion of sprinkling several seasonings on a roll in the style of the everything bagel could have arisen anywhere in the world bread is eaten. At Sofreh Café, an Iranian bakery and coffee shop in Bushwick, I ordered a shirmal, a round, well-browned milk bun that had a similar mix of seeds (in this case sesame, poppy, sesame, and nigella) in separate quadrants on top. Each imparted its own distinct flavor to the bun. As I finished the saffron-flavored bread, I couldn’t help but think about how the everything bagel might have looked like had its seasonings been separately sprinkled rather than tossed at random.