Food + Drink

PSA: Bagel delivery from Zabar’s is awesome.

Zabar's bagel delivery -
Photo by Geninne D Zlatkis

There are a few clichés about New Yorkers that, in my experience, are absolutely true: We complain about the weather, no matter what the weather is. We talk about how much our rent is, and how much it’s increased each year. We love to give directions, even if they’re wrong. We understand personal space. We think we have the best pizza on Earth. We think know we have the best bagels on Earth, and that all other bagels everywhere in the country are terrible.

I’m sorry, but that last one is absolutely true. Since moving to New Mexico in 2015 (!!!), I have tried so many bagels. I’ve bought them from grocery stores, from bakeries, from dedicated bagel shops…if there’s a bagel for sale somewhere, I’ll try it. Friends, the situation is dire. I understand that folks in places like San Francisco are apparently able to get something resembling a New York-style bagel, and I’m not going to judge (hah, yes I am) without trying them myself, but in New Mexico? The best bagel I’ve found is from Trader Joe’s, and that’s just wrong.

Yes, I’m a jerk when it comes to bagels. But to paraphrase Judge Judy, don’t sell me round bread and say it’s a bagel.

You’ll hear all kinds of talk about how it’s the water in New York that makes the bagels so delicious (and seemingly impossible to replicate elsewhere), but that theory has been debunked more than once. Also, I’m the first to admit that some of the best bagels I’ve had in my life didn’t actually come from NYC, but from bakeries in the Hudson Valley, which has a completely different water supply. It can’t just be a failure to boil the bagels before baking, either, because I’ve had some godawful bagels made by bakeries that are definitely boiling them. Is it a lack of barley malt? Is it failure to ferment? I DO NOT KNOW. It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe, and I assume it has something to do with black holes and dark matter.

Lumpy-ass bagels -

Before you ask, yes, I’ve experimented with making my own bagels—one time. Those are their lumpy selves pictured above. They were really good (certainly better than anything I’ve bought here), but there are glitches I need to work out before attempting to do it again. The primary issue is that the altitude of Santa Fe is 7200′, which causes all kind of weirdness when it comes to boiling water (water boils at 199°F here, a full 13º lower than at sea level) and cooking/baking in general, and I still haven’t gotten my head around how to make the necessary adjustments. I also need to get better at forming the bagels so they’re smooth, and I need to figure out the right amount of malt syrup to use. And they didn’t come out as shiny as they should have, which I think is also a boiling issue. I’ll get there eventually, but even then, making bagels from scratch is pretty labor (and time) intensive. And sometimes (OK, all the time) you just want a bagel without putting in any effort.

That’s where Zabar’s enters the picture.

Zabar’s, in case you’re not familiar, is a kinda-fancy, kinda-gourmet grocery store on the Upper West Side. It’s been there for almost 90 years, and they make great bagels—among lots of other delicious baked goods and coffee beans and all kinds of other yummy stuff. My dad lives nearby, so stopping by Zabar’s for a dozen bagels to bring back to Brooklyn used to be part of my routine after leaving his place. I did this once after moving to New Mexico, but it’s not as convenient as you might think to cram a big bag of bagels into your suitcase. (Side note: I did notice last week that there’s now an H&H Bagels in Terminal 5 at JFK, and they sell bags of bagels to go. If you have room in your carry-on, go for it!)

The solution? Bagel delivery from Zabar’s! 18 assorted bagels cost about $22, plus $10 for ground shipping. That works out to about $1.75 per bagel, which isn’t even all that much more than the cost of a decent bagel in a bagel shop. Plus, Zabar’s bagels are super good—chewy and dense, with a great malty taste.

If you’re worried about whether your bagels will still be fresh enough to enjoy by the time they arrive, my experience is that ground shipping winds up taking about two days to get from NYC to Santa Fe, and they are nice and soft when they arrive. I don’t know if I’ve just had really good luck, but I’ve also ordered bagels as a gift for my friend Geninne (that’s her photo at the top of the post), and now she’s started ordering them from Zabar’s for herself. No disappointments or rock-hard bagels to speak of so far!

Unless you plan to eat all 18 bagels on the day they arrive (and believe me, I pass no judgement if that’s your thing—in fact, I have nothing but respect for your lifestyle), I recommend slicing them first and then freezing them. It’s really easy to pop a frozen bagel in the toaster (or leave it out to defrost for 30 minutes if toasting isn’t your thing) when it’s pre-sliced.

Bagel art prints/Anna Dorfman -

Oh, and if you need some bagel-themed artwork to gaze upon while you munch on your malty carb rings, I’ve got you covered. Show me the bagels!

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  • Reply Katie March 6, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    High altitude is spectacularly great at ruining a sure fire sea level recipe. I recommend checking out the “Pie In the Sky” cookbook. It teaches the chemistry of HA baking through recipes. I learned so much from it when I moved from NYC to CO. Not that you need it when Zabars delivers nationwide.

  • Reply Lewis March 8, 2020 at 8:21 am

    The one time I made bagels, they looked quite similar to yours, but sadly I can’t blame it on the altitude. They were delicious, even though I’m pretty sure I did not use any sort of malt or barley. But soooo labor and time intensive.

    I’ve settled on Whole Foods brand bagels, but I’ve found I need to check if they are shiny/boiled, because sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. Again, I don’t know about malt or barley. I’ve only had true New York bagels a few times, and never Hudson Valley bagels. So my bagel bar is much lower. I’m afraid to try these Zabar bagels, because I’m sure it will make the WF bagels taste like trash by comparison.

    • Anna Dorfman March 8, 2020 at 9:01 am

      I think Whole Foods must use regional bakers for stuff like bagels, right? I’ve tried them at the WF in Santa Fe a few times, and they were really bad. Sigh.

  • Reply A Guide Named Sue March 8, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    If you are going to or from JFK, go early or take some time before heading into the city and visit the TWA Hotel terminal. You won’t regret it and you will find plenty of material for another blog post. Make sure you have a drink in the “Connie” and see the pool and the first floor. It’s quite wonderful.

    • Anna Dorfman March 8, 2020 at 7:31 pm

      I plan to eventually! Tough to make it work (mainly because I’m so eager to see my family), but I’ll stay overnight eventually.

  • Reply ra-cha-cha March 9, 2020 at 8:46 am

    Go to Sage Bakehouse for a scone instead. Those gals know what they’re doing.

    • Anna Dorfman March 9, 2020 at 8:50 am

      Their scones are made with dairy and eggs (I don’t eat either), but I do like their sourdough.

    • Anna Dorfman March 9, 2020 at 8:51 am

      (Also, just FYI, scones are nothing at all like bagels!!)

    • ra-cha-cha March 9, 2020 at 9:31 am

      For sure, but a good scone beats a garbage bagel any day. Just about anything beats a garbage bagel, actually. I’m sorry for your bagel loss, but I am still missing the green chile since I left NM.

  • Reply Meghan May 11, 2020 at 7:46 pm

    Hi. you are back! Coming in super late here, but I make bagels all the time. They do take practice and I am more into a Montreal bagel myself, but as you don’t eat egg or honey that is a different deal. A few things to try.
    You need a high gluten flour (even higher than a bread flour). I like either a high gluten, bakers authority has a special bagel flour you can buy or can buy bob’s red mill vital wheat gluten and add it into your bread flour or if you can only find all purpose. There are cheats on how to do that on the web on how to add it. I just wing it a bit, it’s not a perfect science.
    I like to really plan everything out before hand, so that I am ready to do everything at once. I get stressed if I don’t, but hell. I love bagels and a crap bagel sucks. If the dough is slaggy you will know that the flour and water is correct, but yeah, it take some practice. I use the Montreal bagel rolling technic, but to each his own. I will say that it get easier the more you do it, so I hope. you come back to trying once more. I give away my bagels each Wednesday after noon since the pandemic.
    I then cut them in half and freeze them the same day. Scones are sooooooo not bagels.

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