I'm a New Yorker, But I Go to Boston for Bagels
Food goodbyes are always the hardest for me. When I moved to Brooklyn from Boston a few years back, my last stop on the way out of town was a bagel shop near Harvard Square, a hole in the wall with a constant line around the corner called Bagelsaurus. I’ve lived (and consumed bagels in) over half a dozen cities at this point in my life, and even spent years working the line at a bagel bakery. After all this time, I now know that the best bagels in the world aren’t from New York City or Montreal—they’re from Boston.
Now, it’s important to note here that, in the bagel-starved metropolis of Beantown, it doesn’t exactly take an H&H-quality egg-everything to please a desperate palate. I had considered the possibility that Bagelsaurus was just benefiting from low expectations—in fact, as I pulled away from my beloved spot on Massachusetts Avenue that last time, I was hoping that would be the case. Though heartbroken, my spirits were buoyed by the promise of better. I might have been leaving behind the best bagels I’d ever had, but where I was headed, it seemed fair to assume that Bagelsaurus would soon be an afterthought.
It’s been years now since I landed on Brooklyn’s shores, and I’ve pored over the bagel power rankings. I’ve made the trek uptown to Absolut Bagel many times, and waited in line at Black Seed on a Sunday morning. I’ve made my fair share of hangry bagel purchases at random bodegas and no-name joints across the five boroughs. And, I’ll admit, I’ve grown to love the unceasing availability of these simple dough rounds here — you’re never more than a few blocks from a solid sesame-with-veggie in this town, and a truly bad bagel is hard to find. But a perfect bagel? That, I still drive four hours north for.
Now, before the “never-toasted” masses erupt with cries of sacrilege, let me explain. I was fully prepared to shift loyalties, to swallow the notion that Bagelsaurus maybe only seemed peerless in the context of Boston’s savage dearth. But these things are not just Boston-good. They’re good-good, and I’ll tell you why.
Bagelsaurus began as the passion project of young baker Mary Ting-Hyatt, who opened her modest shop with a Kickstarter campaign after a small pop-up project was beginning to attract “best bagels in Boston” claims. When Ting-Hyatt had arrived in Boston after college, she’d immediately noted that the town was in desperate need of some better bagel joints, and while attending culinary school, she waited for someone to beat her to it—but no one did. After graduating in 2008, she decided it was time to figure out exactly what was missing. Through trial-and-error in her apartment, Ting-Hyatt discovered how to make her ideal bagel: crunchy-crackly skin, bubbles throughout, and a depth of flavor that makes cream cheese an afterthought.
By the time she launched her pop-up in the back of a deli in Boston’s biggest Jewish neighborhood, she’d gotten it down to a science. Using a decades-old sourdough starter, high-gluten flour, and a unique overnight cold-ferment to build flavor, Ting-Hyatt was able to create the bagel of her dreams (and mine, too). Rather than slapping the dough into logs to feed into an extruder, she molds each round by hand, retaining air bubbles to keep them from becoming too dense. The result is crackly on the outside, chewy but light on the inside, and intensely flavorful.
Ting-Hyatt’s offerings haven’t changed much since her days of selling (and selling out of) them at the deli—and that’s part of their beauty. While NYC’s wealth of options can seem exciting at first (a rainbow bagel with bacon-cheddar cream cheese is certainly Instagrammable, if nothing else), this overwhelming panoply ultimately, unavoidably, dilutes quality. The resulting variance is impressive, but unfocused. It’s easier to make ten bagel varieties and two types of cream cheese perfectly, than two dozen varieties and countless more schmears.
And this, in a way, acts as metaphor for the differences between each city’s approach. New Yorkers operate under the assumption that more is more, that sheer quantity (and some mystery in the city’s water) earns them bragging rights. They aren’t entirely wrong — with the utter glut of bagel spots in the Big Apple, they deserve the title of our nation’s bagel capital. But outside the capital, just four hours north, Bagelsaurus is proving that less is often much, much more.