Let’s Talk About The Scourge Of Chicago-Style Bagels

Gilad Edelman has written up his very funny investigation into why New York bagel shops give their customers absolutely ridiculous portions of cream cheese – up to four ounces, it appears, which is half of a cup of cream cheese. The only viable answer, to my mind, is that cream cheese is great and bagel shops understand this. If I could eat cream cheese (I cannot), I would eat it with a spoon. Bagels are cream cheese carriers, to me.

However, that’s partly the case because I live in Chicago. If we’re going to talk about bagels, cream cheese really isn’t the issue. The issue is that Chicago-style bagels are baked with steam, rather than parboiled and baked, New York-style. This is why Chicago bagels are a goddamn scourge.

So, the basics are this: If you parboil and bake a bagel, you’re going to get a bagel with fluffy meat and a fairly pliable crust. If you steam a bagel, you’re going to get a hard, chewy bagel. If, like the Chicago Bagel Authority, you don’t offer to ameliorate the unpleasantness of hard, chewy bagels by having a toaster on hand but instead insist on warming bagels by RE-STEAMING them, you’re a fucking madman. All that does is turn the hard crust you worked so hard to get by steam-baking it in the first place into wheat mush, along with the meat of the bagel.

Then imagine, if you will, a warm, soggy bagel with cream cheese. And now you have entered my nightmares.

Texture and temperature differentials are important, by the way. This is why nachos are one of god’s gifts to man: You get warm nachos and meat but cool vegetables; the chips are crunchy, the meat is chewy, the vegetables are crispy, the cheese is soft. This is what CBA, in particular, does not understand about bagels. Mush filled with mush is disgusting. A toasted bagel filled with cream cheese is a thing of greatness specifically because the bagel is warm and crispy and the cream cheese is cool and mushy. Steaming bagels in the first place is horrible; to re-steam them is just disrespecting your customer.

And, I mean, forget about the Chicago vs. New York pizza wars. We have bigger problems than this. There’s a place in the world for both Chicago and New York-style pizzas. Chicago bagels –look, I’m a Chicagoan, and these bagels just have no place anywhere. Food writer and Chicagoan-turned-New Yorker Carly Fisher agreed, when I asked for her comment on the matter:

“Chicago does many things well. Bagels are not one of them. I know many have tried, but it’s a harsh reality that this city needs to accept about itself. I really envy people who don’t know the difference and can happily eat really bad bagels. It’s painful. It’s one of those things where you have to feel grateful for the things you do have, like great tortillas.”

Fisher is referring, here, to El Milagro tortillas, the greatest tortillas the Earth has ever known, native to Chicago and completely impossible to find in New York. And yes, this means that Chicago restaurants are far better-equipped to serve tortilla-based foods than New York can offer, but in the meantime, we also have low availability of great bagels.

I propose a truce, New York. Let’s settle our pizza differences by acknowledging each other’s true greatnesses. Let’s trade tortillas for bagels. There’s no way either of us can lose, except by not making peace at all.


[Image via Shutterstock]

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