Angry Rant from a New Yorker: I don’t want a gallon of cream cheese on my bagel

By Ben Adler

Getting a decent bagel with the right thing on it is way too much of a hassle these days. For as long as I can remember, bagel places — even in New York! — put too much cream cheese on your bagel. The middle of it would be cold, right out of the fridge. You think that’s what I want?

Time once was, though, that in New York you could rectify this by saying, “just a shmear,” after ordering your poppy seed with scallion. The server would nod knowingly, put on just the right amount and charge you a little less to boot. No more. As New York is taken over by the rest of the country people do not know what a shmear is, and asking for one is like shouting into the wind.

Another pet peeve: outside of New York people always assume you want your bagel toasted unless you tell them otherwise. Usually they have the decency to confirm this, but recently I was at an airport and ordered a bagel to take on the plane. Now, if I’m in a hurry and I’m going to be eating this in an hour, do I want to wait five minutes for a bagel to be made hot when I’m just going to let it cool again? No, but they toasted it anyway. That’s because bagels outside of New York have no flavor. By toasting them you approximate some of the burnt flavor that is supposed to come naturally as part of the bagel along the bottom and edges.

Meanwhile, down in Washington, there is hardly an edible bagel to be found. Yesterday I was walking home from the dentist so I figured I’d stop at So’s Your Mom, the only bagel I can stomach within walking distance of my house. So’s Your Mom is, naturally, a small Italian deli owned by Asian-Americans with an ironic, irrelevant joke name. The bagels are not good. They are not fluffy or chewy. They do not have that burnt edge. They are just bagels, which I do not even think you can find in Mount Pleasant, where I live. But, I chose to have mine with butter, not cream cheese. I think a toasted onion or sesame seed bagel with butter — lots of it — is vastly under-appreciated. It’s like the total opposite of the too much cream cheese phenomenon. (A lot of better just covers your bagel, it doesn’t pile up like too much cream cheese. Also, butter is a more subtle flavor.) When will Americans learn that less is more?

12 responses to “Angry Rant from a New Yorker: I don’t want a gallon of cream cheese on my bagel

  1. Please do yourself a favor and check out The Fractured Prune (I go to the one in Parkville but I’d think the Cloverly one would be closest to you) and check them out. They have the best bagels (and donuts of course).

  2. Come on, man. Cream cheese is the bomb. The more the merrier, I say.

    Butter, on the other hand, is clearly sacrelige. Cream cheese gives you a nice coolness and a neutral dairy flavor to go with each bite of crispy, toasted bagel. Butter just runs everywhere and makes everything taste like…well, buttery mush. Nothing against butter, just that you might as well just have regular buttered toast.

    You just don’t get it, man.

  3. It’s rare that I link to a blog on the first date, but I’m taken by your verve and elan.

    Please add an RSS feed.

  4. I’ve got to part ways on the toasting question. Perhaps the poppy seed is the issue: it doesn’t gain much by toasting. Sesame or onion, on the other hand, becomes considerably more delicious and aromatic when toasted (and in a fleeting way, making it necessary to do this right before serving rather than during baking).

  5. Hey Ben,
    I live in NYC and have the same too-much-cream-cheese issues all the time. Forget “schmear” – just say, extra loud, “VERY LIGHT on the cream cheese.” Even “very light” sometimes yields way more than that, but it’s a start.

  6. I haven’t been there in a while, but have you tried the bagels from Calvert Liquors? My recollection is that they’re brought in from NYC.

  7. I assume by “outside of New York” you mean “where I travel/live” because toasted is not the default for my current region.

    Additionally, there are bagels out in the world besides those in NY and there are cruddy bagels in NY. And before anyone gets all testy, I’m from NY.

  8. I live in LA, and while I won’t argue with the entire tub of cream cheese on the bagel (I always ask for “very light on the cream cheese, please”), I must say they don’t automatically assume you want it toasted. At least not at the bagel shop I go to!

  9. You wrote, “That’s because bagels outside of New York have no flavor.” — You, sir, paint with a VERY wide brush!

    I suspect that you haven’t had a whole lot of bagels “outside of New York” if you really believe that.

    On the other hand, I totally agree with you on, “When will Americans learn that less is more?”

  10. make your own bagels!

    it is a day’s project…..but you can add whatever you like for toppings.
    ….when they are finally done, it is quite a feeling of accomplishment.
    i made a batch during a blizzard on the alaska range in fairbanks, in february…..the perfect day for bagelmaking!
    the person i was visitiing, said, “ya cant get a decent bagel in fairbanks!”
    we remedied that!

    make a batch of your own.
    it will be memorable!

  11. Of course, you could skip all this dairy nonsense all together, and go directly to putting bacon on your bagel.

  12. So’s Your Mom serves bagels from What’s a Bagel, I think.

    If you live in Mt. Pleasant, the bagels at Heller’s are actually not bad; they’re not New York bagels, naturally, but even my Brooklyn-born wife thinks they’re… acceptable.

    Bagel City — in Rockville, and also on Mass Ave near the District line — has the bagels in the area. They close for Passover, though, so if you want to sample them, go in the next couple weeks or wait a month.

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