As a website that is as much culture as it is about food, we are fascinated by human migration. We like foods that are on trade routes and have origins in other places and the people who brought them there. Sociologists call such migratory phenomena, Diaspora. The diaspora group that secular and religious sociologists look to as the archetype for the phenomena are the Jewish people. The original Jewish diaspora happened in 722 B.C. when the Assyrians conquered Israel and took many people away into captivity. Again in 72 A.D. the Romans, after many years of occupation, put down a rebellion and again dispersed the Jews. Because of these dispersions, some of the oldest synagogues and Jewish communities are spread throughout the Middle East and many of their holy sites, such as the mausoleum for Daniel and Queen Esther, are venerated by local Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. As a result of intense anti-semitism, persecution, and genocide in Europe over the decades, millions of Jews immigrated to the United States so that ate one point there were more Jews in the United States than there were in Israel.
Three Things to love about the New York Bagel and Coffee Shop Experience
One of the best things about the restaurant is its welcoming host and co-owner, Ed. He is friends with all of his patrons and knows them by name. Ed learned to make bagels in Houston, starting in his early days waking up at 3am to come in and mix dough and make bagels. Ed's family was inducted into the bagel union through a long range marriage (his father in law was the brother of the woman who married into the union).
New York Bagel is a local, and I mean that in the British pub sense of the word. This is a gathering point for Houston's Jewish community and bagel lovers alike. In the midst of Ed bragging to us about their rootedness in the community, four generation of a local family greeted Ed as they walked out the door. One of the newest members of our crew also bumped into one of his elementary school teachers. If this isn't enough to convince you, check out the local awards that they have earned from Houston's very own Marvin Zindler.
Finally, the food. I'll be honest; I have never been a fan of bagels. In fact, I would have said that I hated bagels. I know that many of you avid followers of this blog might be turned off by our consumption of weird things: the snails, grasshoppers, guinea pig, or offal. For me, the cause of suffering for the blog--I thought--was bagels. After one bite of the fresh made bagels and New York Bagel and Coffee Shop I realize I simply had good taste in bagels. My bagel pushing friends have brought me bagels from all of the usual suspects but to no avail. I am now a converted bagel pusher: seriously, if you haven't tried them at NY Bagel and Coffee Shop you are missing out.
With roots in eastern Europe, many of the now American Jews imported this food which has roots in the Polish Jewish community. Bagels, though they have numerous reincarnations, are a bread that is boiled and then baked and usually topped with some kind of herb or grain. They can be eaten with a variety of culinary accoutrements which give them the dynamic range of a breakfast food all the way to lunch and dinner foods. Try their rye, or "ET" (everything) with their selection of cream cheeses if you want to go simple. But their egg, hame, and cheese bagel will make you change your religion. One of the secrets to the great flavor of New York Bagel's--aside from their made-from-scratch approach--is that they still take the time to boil the bagels.
The Bagel Unions
The Bagel unions are a coveted seal of approval and recognition of virtuosity among the bagel makers. Among other things, the unions provided better pay for the bagels, which were made and paid individually. These unions, however were difficult to get into. During our conversation about the shop, Ed pulled out a book and read to us about what it took to get into the bagel unions back in the day:
"One old timer's son tells of how he went to the union office every Thursday afternoon for sixth months before he was given a permit to learn how to work the oven, while another clearly remembers the minimum rolling speed he had to demonstrate: at least 832 bagels an hour." (Maria Balinsk, The Bagel, 130)