Taste-Off: Bagels — New York City vs. Montreal
Inspired by the essay "Real New Yorker's Don't Toast Their Bagels," this Taste-Off pitted bagels from New York City against those from Montreal. The Daily Meal's editorial staff tasted plain, sesame seed, poppy seed, and cinnamon raisin bagels from Leo's Bagels in New York and from St-Viateur in Montreal, Canada via Joel Tietolman of Mile End Montreal Bagels.
Age: While they may have been transported quickly and with love, the Montreal bagels still had to travel a great distance from their origin — a distinct disadvantage next to the "not oven-fresh, but still warm" New York bagels from Leo's.
Flavor: The New York bagels from Leo's had a faint sweetness that was especially prominent on the finish. The Montreal bagels were sweeter overall, but as one editor noted, they needed "salt, cream cheese... or anything really" to enhance their flavor. One editor even said the Montreal bagels reminded her of pretzels.
Exterior: The Montreal bagels were thinner overall and had much larger holes, whereas the New York bagels had soft, thin "just crisp" crusts.
Toppings: The balanced toppings on both sides of the New York bagels were thoroughly appreciated by all tasters. Montreal's bagels did not fare as well with their decidedly uneven topping distribution.
Interior: Editors were split over whether the New York bagels were too doughy. However, they agreed that they were "not overly tender," and had a nice "pliable stretch." By contrast, the Montreal bagels were called "Dense! Much, much more dense."
Chewiness: More than one taster found the New York bagels "a little too chewy." One taster even said, "My jaw hurts!" Surprisingly, the Montreal bagels' density did not proportionally increase their chewiness.
Opinions on Toasting: The New York bagels inspired several converts to non-toasting. There seemed to be agreement regarding the bagels from New York that "when the bagel is fresh, toasting would be redundant." However, several were still in favor of toasting to "activate some of the toasty bits" and possibly diminish the doughiness. Since the Montreal bagels had traveled a considerable distance, we were instructed to toast them whole to bring them back to life and give them a crispy oven effect.
Conclusion: Given that it's not fair to judge bagels so far from their source, so long after being made (especially head-to-head with bagels made just hours before), The Daily Meal's editors reserved judgment on Montreal-style bagels until they could be tasted fresh from the oven. It should be noted though, that our most resolute non-toaster took a Montreal-style home, toasted it, topped it with mustard, and found that he actually enjoyed it much more than he had with cream cheese. It just goes to show how much time, toasting, and toppings can affect the experience.