Why Bagels Have Gotten Bigger

The essay "Real New Yorkers Don't Toast Their Bagels" tackles the question of bagel-toasting with eight prominent bagelers and critics. Read the full interviews for more on bagels, cream cheese, and who has better bagels, New York or Montreal.

Start a conversation about New York City's best bagels and it's likely that one of Adam Pomerantz's stores will be thrown into the mix. Whether your allegiance rests with Murray's Bagels (Chelsea and Greenwich Village), which he co-founded, or Leo's Bagels, which he owns in the Financial District, you have to consider Pomerantz one of New York City's brightest bagel-making stars.


New York or Montreal?
I've never really had a true Montreal-style bagel, so I can't answer that.


What's your favorite kind of bagel: everything, sesame, pumpernickel, poppy, plain, etc.?


Bialy or Flagle?


Nova or lox?


Sable or whitefish?
Whitefish, or whitefish salad? Sable. Or really, it would be called black cod. In a restaurant it's called black cod. It's a nice fatty fish that just melts in your mouth. It's what the appetizing stores, used to call it.


Favorite place for a bagel other than your own?
Murray's Bagels. Ha ha. Actually that's mine —I  own Murray's Bagels. Other than my own I would go with... that's a tough one. Terrace Bagels in Brooklyn.


Who is your biggest competitor?
For Leo's? No one.


Some people swear by toasting. Others claim it destroys the integrity of the bagel. To toast or not to toast? Why?
Well, Leo's does toast. Personally, I do not need a bagel toasted — if it's fresh. It has to be fresh, or right out of the oven. A fresh bagel does not need to be toasted. Murray's does not toast. Leo's does. It's a very good question, and personally I do not like a bagel toasted unless it's a day old. Or if the bagel is not good, it improves it.


Favorite type of cream cheese?
Either plain, or scallion. We make our own. But we always start with Philadelphia brand cream cheese. Neufchâtel as our low-fat. Regular Philadelphia as our regular. Regular cream cheese comes in 50-pound blocks.


What are your feelings about Temptee?
I grew up with Temptee. I like the taste, and that it's really, really whipped. I'm a fan of Temptee over Philadelphia, but Temptee does not sell in bulk. And by the way, we do whip the cream cheese ourselves. We take the Philadelphia cream cheese and whip it up in the mixer. Because the customer does appreciate the softer cream cheese.


What should never be a cream cheese flavor?
Ha, I probably have a few. I don't have one of the top of my head. I don't like liquorice, so I'll say liquorice cream cheese.


Anything different you notice about bagels now from those of your youth?
Yes. The common answer is that they're larger. Years ago — I'm in my mid-40s now — bagels were about the size of a hockey puck. Now, they're about double the size. There is a reason for that. Most bagel stores now also sell sandwiches, and if you were to serve turkey or roast beef on a bagel the size of a hockey puck the customer would not be happy. The bagel has evolved over the years into something that would be more appropriate to serve as a sandwich.


What about the quality? Is it different?
In places like Leo's and Murray's the quality is the same. With new technology such as bagel-rolling machines, and rack ovens that shoot steam into the bagel, the bagels are not the same. And unfortunately, most new places are not hand-rolling their bagels, like Leo's, and using stone-lined revolving ovens, like Leo's.


If there's one question you wish you were asked more about bagels, what would it be?
Through the years I've been asked every possible question about bagels. The question I wish that was asked more frequently is "Why are Leo's Bagels so damn good?"


Are you:
a) A fan of the L.E.O.?
b) LEO who?
Of course. Yes, that's part of the reason why it's called Leo's Bagels