Inside Ess-a-Bagel at the corner of 21st and Third Avenue at 9:15 a.m. the counterperson says, "Who's next!?"
"I'll have a toasted bag — " a girl three people back from the register says and gets cut off before she can finish the word.
"We don't toast!" rebuffs the gruff guy behind the counter wearing a green Ess-a-Bagel shirt.
As previously noted here on The Daily Meal, real New Yorkers don't toast their bagels. A good bagel in its perfect form — that is to say, fresh from the oven — does not require toasting. It does not benefit from toasting. Toasting a good bagel is bastardizing a beautiful thing. If you’re toasting a good bagel, you’re toasting something that’s already warm and crusty — that’s redundant. You’re not going to get anything better than peak form — oven-fresh. The outside is already crisp yet pliable. The inside, willing and giving, accepting and forgiving, still able to transform through its residual heat, its breath — your spread, from its natural state into something just slightly different, while keeping its integrity. If you’re taking this level of craftsmanship and toasting it you either have hubris or a lack of experience with quality product.
There is nothing wrong with toasting an average bagel, a day-old bagel. Go ahead, freeze your bagels and then toast them. By all means. But a fresh bagel? Make whatever case you want about who makes the best bagel. Indeed, let's start that fight! But to take whichever bagel that is for you, that pinnacle of bagelness — everything that is bagel and everything that a bagel should be — to toast that? No. And here’s the thing, those bagels, those bagels acceptable for toasting? The frozen ones, the hours-old bagels, the day-olds, the second-time rounders? You keep them. They’re not worth eating if you have to toast. If you’re toasting a bagel worth eating, you’re not just painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, you're spitting in Da Vinci's face.
So it's good to hear that counterperson's rebuff, "We don't toast." The world may end in about two weeks. We may fall off the fiscal cliff soon. There may be no tomorrow. But at least today, at my favorite bagel spot in New York City, the bagels are fresh, warm, and crusty. They put enough cream cheese on and just the right amount of Nova. And they don't toast — the man said it himself. So there.