Bagel Smackdown! Winners, Losers, Fakers, Offal

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"Hey, this one looks like blood sausage! Or it could be my kidney," quoth Our Man Sietsema, demonstrating.

In a convincing imitation of Mario Andretti, I drove my rattling, on-the-verge-of-death Toyota all over the city this morning, gathering up the bagels that you out there think are the best in the city. Luckily, your votes turned out to give us four well-regarded bagel spots that cut a nice swath through the boroughs: Bagel Hole in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Bagel Boy in Bay Ridge and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Bagel Oasis in Fresh Meadows, Queens, Ess-a-Bagel on 1st Avenue and 21st Street in Manhattan.

As soon as Robert (Our Man Sietsema) walked in, he asked me if I knew what constituted a real bagel versus a fake bagel. Real ones, I said, have to be boiled briefly before baked. Yes, he said, but some places use steaming machines instead of boiling them properly, and those fake bagels have a telltale bumpy grid on their bottoms.

We flipped the bagels and they all checked out okay except Bagel Boy's, which was marred by the telltale imprint of the steaming machine. Fakers! Steamed bagels! Sagels? Fagels? Anyway.

Robert didn't know where the bagels were from and tasted them blind. I had set up the tasting and written the shop names on the bottoms of the plates, and then promptly tried to forget which was which. Forgetting stuff comes naturally to me.

We were looking for a slightly crisp-chewy crust (I like some blistering) and a moist-crumbed, dense interior that was neither dry nor undercooked, tasty, a little malty and yeasty but not too sweet. We didn't toast the bagels or sex them up with toppings.

Plain Bagels
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Left to right: Ess-a-Bagel, Bagel Hole, Bagel Oasis, Bagel Boy

Ess-a-Bagel: This one eked out first place, on the strength of its chewy crusty exterior and not-too-sweet, yeasty interior. Sure, it might be a little overweight, but it's damn good.
RS: "It's like the first girl you ever kiss or your first pizza. It imprints as the best."

Bagel Hole: The plain runner up, we liked that the longer you chew this dense little number, the better it tastes. The satisfying, starchy finish sneaks up on you. It looks like a little rock, with a very tough, chewy crust, and a very dense interior. You could probably knock someone out with it.
RS: "I appreciate its compactness. You could put it in your pocket without making a mess."

Bagel Oasis: This one looked the part, but didn't deliver on flavor. It had a nicely blistered crust (which Sietsema thought was a bit too tough, but I liked) but it tasted...eh. Like a bagel.
RS: "It has a pellicle like some giant insect!"

Bagel Boy: We were already biased against this bagel, knowing that it had been machine-steamed rather than boiled. And its texture was not right: puffy, spongy, slick.
RS: "It's like a cheap, shiny new car that you know won't last more than 20,000 miles."

Pumpernickel Bagels
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Left to right: Ess-a-Bagel, Bagel Hole, Bagel Oasis, Bagel Boy

Bagel Hole: It takes a lot to get two professional eaters to just shut up and say "That's good," but that's what this delicious bagel did for us, and neither of us are natural pumpernickel fans. Fragrant, wallops of caraway, crusty, dense, a little sweet.

Bagel Oasis: We liked the nicely blistered, chewy crust. Best for caraway haters, since it's milder than the others.
RS: "Nice salt component."

Ess-a-Bagel: Solidly in third, but meh. Simple.

Bagel Boy:
RS: "This looks like blood sausage. It could be my kidney!" [models]
SD: "That's funny, everyone coming by my desk commented that this one looked the best."
RS: "That's because they like meat."
The end.

Salt Bagels
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Left to right: Ess-a-Bagel, Bagel Hole, Bagel Oasis, Bagel Boy

Bagel Oasis: Salted on the top and bottom, this one tasted kind of like a good pretzel. Chewy, yeasty, salty.
RS: "The most Teutonic of bagels."

Bagel Hole: Only salted on the top (which seems like it wouldn't work well if you wanted to eat it one half at a time), this one tasted pleasantly oniony for some reason.

The last two salt bagels did not meet with our approval and sent Robert off.

Bagel Boy: RS: "This bagel is trying to ingratiate itself with us."

Ess-a-Bagel: RS: "Skanky, like someone dragged it up 1st Avenue."

Info

Bagel Oasis
183-12 Horace Harding Expressway, Fresh Meadows (Queens)
718-359-9245

Ess-a-Bagel
359 1st Avenue
212-260-2252

Bagel Hole
400 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn
718-788-4014

Bagel Boy (two locations)
1602 Avenue Z, Brooklyn
718-332-3444

8002 Third Avenue, Brooklyn
718-748-0366

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