If you haven’t already, prepare to fall in love with Action Bronson’s singularly wonderful food prose and recipes. His new book, F*ck, That’s Delicious, is everything you’ve ever wanted from the food-obsessed rapper, chef and TV host (and much more). Take a peek into the mind behind the munchies, and discover which of these five favorite bagels around the world takes the cake.
Five Bagels Around The World
No matter where I am, I’m always drawn to bagels, as I am under their spell. Each year I continue my journey of trying to figure out who does the better bagel. But perhaps that doesn’t matter — perhaps I should just enjoy the whimsical enchantment of each. Either way, here are five special bagels in my life.
Utopia Bagels: Flushing, Queens
The best bagel in New York City used to be from Bagel Oasis,* a twenty-four-hour place on Horace Harding Expressway not far from where I grew up in Flushing, Queens. I was raised on these bagels, and people come from all over the place to get them — as they’ve been doing since 1961. Then I found Utopia Bagels on Utopia Parkway. They hand roll, slow proof, boil-then-bake — these bagels take thirty-six hours to make and are chewy, dense. Utopia Bagels has been going since 1981, but it just doubled in size right before I went the first time. These bagels are fire — the very best in the city, in my opinion. Now I usually have a bag in my freezer, even though I also go there all the time when I am home. In addition to my standard sesame or plain bagel with cheese, I’ve come up with another Utopia Bagels concoction that I really like: A toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with jalapeño cream cheese.
*There was also Bagels Plus, which was just up the block on Parsons Boulevard. We’d go there sometimes on the way to the beach, but it’s so close to home you really can’t go in there without bumping into some schmuck you know that you don’t want to see at nine in the morning, stuck in a fake conversation about the weather. Whenever people are uncomfortable, they talk about the weather. Or the Yankees. But weather is more universal — plus there’s always something to talk about: It’s nature’s soap opera.
Bagel Land/Bagel World: West Palm Beach, Florida
In West Palm Beach, where my mother’s parents lived when I was in grade school, I remember we either went to Bagel Land or Bagel World.* I forget which one was better, but this was the routine every single day: My grandfather would take me and my mother to one of the two bagel shops for breakfast, and then we would watch a few VHS tapes, a great collection of which I still have in a cabinet behind the couch at my mother’s house in Queens. Then we would go to the nursing home to see my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, and we would sit there with her for most of the day before my grandfather took us out to dinner. Food was always love to him. His name was Irving Lovett, and he came to the United States on a boat from Russia to Ellis Island. He spoke Yiddish and he also had a strong New York accent, very oldtimey. He was a great dude, a big guy with a beautiful head of white hair and a big personality, and he would make everybody in the room laugh. He was always a little inappropriate, in a very Rodney Dangerfield way. He is missed.
*At least I remember them as Bagel Land and Bagel World. My mother, who was older and paying more attention, says at least one of them was called New York Bagel.
La Maison: Montreal, Canada
When in Montreal, this is the bagel spot to go to. The last time I went there I didn’t even have anything on mine — I just ate half a dozen sesame by myself sitting right there in front of the store. They were so majestically warm, just out of the wood-burning oven, that when I broke them open I should have been wearing asbestos gloves. A New York bagel is nothing like a Montreal bagel. They say it’s the water — it’s more than that. It’s a whole other system of making them that gives them that special exterior crunch, that makes them that dense. It’s just a whole different thing.
Beigel Bake: London, England
I usually do two things as soon as I land in London: Go to Lahore Kebab House for lamb chops and go get a bagel from Beigel Bake, which is not too far around the corner down on Brick Lane, an old Londontown street lined with little shops and Indian curry restaurants.* I love Brick Lane, and Beigel Bake has been kicking it there since 1974. Their bagels are smaller, more like a Lender’s than a typical modern New York City bagel — yeasty, chewy and a little crispy on the outside. Beigel Bake is open twenty-four hours, but their bagels are always fresh because this place pumps them out like crazy all day long. It is always packed. There are always junkies out front, and the women who run it are always mean, in a good way. You can get your bagel with lox or boiled chicken or butter and a thick slice of cheap British salami, plus a bunch of other things, but the main objective at Beigel Bake has always been the salt beef — big slabs of this salty, stringy meat barely stuffed inside that soft little bagel. It is the only filling they add to order — the rest are already made and ready to go in plastic buckets. It is also just a little too salty to eat straight up like pastrami or corned beef, but somehow with that strong sharp English mustard they have and that bagel, it works.
*I’ve been told that there’s better Indian food in London than there is in India, and Manchester is a fucking close second: Curry Mile in Manchester is nothing to be fucked with. It is literally a mile of curry restaurants, nonstop, back and forth.
Best Ugly Bagels: Auckland, New Zealand
Best Ugly Bagels is a bagel factory owned by Chef Al Brown, the man who is also responsible for making what I believe is the best smoked meat that I have ever tasted. His bagel shop is called Best Ugly because the bagels are cooked next to a wood fire and prone to inconsistencies, so it’s an inside joke about their appearance: I’m unique in my own way; I am beautiful on the inside. That’s good, because when I got to make one myself on my last trip to New Zealand, I had just broken my hand.* Uglys are mainly Montreal-style bagels, which means made with honey and without salt, a little bit different from the bagels I am used to, but still absolutely sublime. Like the best soft pretzel you ever tasted. Al’s standard Ugly is topped with sesame seeds, and you already know anything sesame toasted is all me. Al’s bagel factory is also just sick — he uses an Old World technique, the same style used in Montreal, where he worked as a chef for a few years. The bagels are cooked on long wooden paddles in this unbelievable wood-burning contraption that runs on the same New Zealand mānuka wood he uses to smoke his meats. These bagels are fussed over: They’re taken out and flipped over about halfway through, so that the flat bottom found on most bagels doesn’t form. This one is round all around — all top, all crunch, no flat surface. When they’re fully done, you slide the paddle out from the oven and flip it into the air in one quick motion, and the bagels all come falling down right into the basket where they need to be. It’s a beautiful thing.
*The computer kept fucking up, and it was just throwing off my entire chi. When you perform, you need a certain vibe, you need a certain energy. I went backstage in a blind rage, saw something that I thought I could probably break through, I punched it, I didn’t break through it, and instead broke my hand. And then I had to come back out on stage and rap the rest of the show with my hand in a bucket of ice.