Bagel Maven

538 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 293-4168

 

Let’s face it, outside of New York City bagels are always just varying degrees of a let down, but in many cases it can at least be a pleasant surprise as to how little that let down actually is. This is the case with Bagel Maven, a mighty fine bagel for those with lowered expectations. It’s a little on the doughy side, but the outer crust has good texture to it. Unfortunately they are a touch stingy on the seed count when it comes to bagels of such standing, but that’s a mild ding comparatively. There are also very few options when it comes to “toppings.” So if you’re looking for sable, lox, nova, whitefish salad and an array of schmears, it’s gonna take you two stops, because you’ll also need to head on over to Gold’s Delicatessen. But at least the bagels are better here.

The only other thing I would note before I leave you to fend for yourself,  is that this place is not, I repeat NOT the kind of place you want to sit and dine. It’s strictly a grab n’ go.

Murray’s Cheese Bar

264 Bleecker StNew York, NY 10014 • (646) 476-8882 • murrayscheesebar.com

Murray’s has been a New York icon for more years than the aged cheddar in their cheese cases. But more recently they decided to take that expertise and run with it, opening up a restaurant just a few doors down where the cheese flows like wine, or rather in tandem with it.

Our story begins with a robust, spicy blend of Grenache and Syrah by the glass. It was perfect for the cheesy tour de force that lied ahead, starting with the grilled artichokes, which wasn’t all that cheesy to be honest, but holy cow was it good, drizzled with an alici aioli (alici is an Italian fish sauce made from anchovies, in case you were thinking of googling it like I just did).

Equally impressive, and much cheesier, were the stuffed zucchini blossoms filled with spiced cream cheese, roasted corn and placed over a light yogurt sauce. Just killer.

But speaking of deadly, the Mac & Cheese was the real showstopper, making my Ultimate list with flying colors… and cheeses. My daughter technically ordered it, but I got all Daniel Day Lewis (circa There Will be Blood) on her and I “drank her milkshake.”

The sliders were also a solid yum, leading me to believe that the burgers are most likely awesome as well. And speaking of the A-word, the charcuterie and cheese plate is all that and then some. Obviously a lot rides on which meats and cheeses you choose, but you can never go wrong with the sweet San Daniele or the milky double cream. Also adding to the awesome are the inspired accouterments like the maple shavings. A stroke of delicousness!

Another worthy get is the grilled cheese, although I must admit I found the sandwich itself to be shockingly boring. What makes up for it in spades, however, is the kickass, sharp-ass tomato soup. Just dip the mediocre sammy in that red fountain of youth and your taste buds will feel like they’re twenty-one again, unless you’re younger than 21, in which case I’m not sure what the math would be?

Lastly, for dessert, while I appreciate the attempt to recreate iconic dishes with cheese, the Ch-mores fall miserably short and lack the contrast of flavors and textures that make S’mores so wonderful. Instead, the Ch’mores wind both looking and tasting like a cheesy blob. It was the biggest miss of the night and the primary reason I am docking a knife. Apart from that, I’d say it is a perfect stop amidst a Bleeker shopping spree, or for an early dinner with kids that doesn’t compromise for the adults.

Gourdough’s

1503 S 1st StAustin, TX 78704 • gourdoughs.com

This place has a sense of humor about it from the name, a play on the Spanish word gordo, which means “fat,” to the guy inside the Airstream dishing out jokes about as freely as they dish out calories. Even the menu items are one pun after another, and the price, while steep for a donut, is diffused by the light-hearted declaration in the form of pennies, which makes everything sound cheaper.

As a base, the donuts are not your cake-like variety. They are more akin to Krispy Kreme when they come hot out of the oven, the sweet dough evaporating in your mouth almost as if it were cotton candy. But what makes these donuts truly muy bueno is the stuff on top.

Exhibit A. The Squealing Pig. A shot put-sized doughnut smothered in cream cheese icing and strawberry jalapeno jelly, then topped with even more jalapeno’s of the candied variety and as the name would suggest, bacon. It’s about five different kinds of wrong that somehow come out tasting so very right. And I’ve had my share of bacon donuts in my past, but this one beats the livin’ pork out of ‘em!

My other fav was the Funky Monkey. Again with the cream cheese icing, but this one is topped with freshly grilled bananas and brown sugar. Just W-O-W-!

In third I would give it to Sara’s Joy. This time with a fudge icing, coconut filling and shaved coconut on top. Now I have no clue who Sara is, but I like the cut of her jib. And the topping of her donut. She apparently has a soft spot for coconuts and eating killer donuts that make your stomach its bitch.

Coming in a strong fourth, the Son of a Peach. Almost as fun to say as it is to eat. Blessed with a cake mix topping, filled with peaches and dusted with cinnamon. It’ll do ya right, and by that I mean you will feel like a donut just had its way with you. Granted that’s pretty much true of any of them. Every last one of them is a beast, so bring a big appetite if you want to tame it.

Katz’s Delicatessen

205 E Houston St. New York, NY 10002(212) 254-2246 katzsdelicatessen.com

pastrami1

Before this place became famous for Meg Ryan’s jubilant fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, people were having real orgasms over their infinitely more famous Pastrami on Rye (pictured), causing an awful lot of people to ask, “I’ll have what she’s having,” years ahead of the screenplay. But as shockingly good as the elephantine sandwiches are at this kosher deli, what many will find even more shocking is that there is nothing kosher about it. Katz’s is Romanian. Not kosher. Granted they do a damn fine job of copy-cat cuisine. So fine, in fact, that they best most of the places that call themselves the real deal. And the fact that Katz’s has been around so long (since 1888), makes its old school vibe all that more authentic, a lot like 2nd Avenue Deli used to be before they lost their lease and had to move. But that’s the charm of the place. I know some people call it touristy, but trust me, this place isn’t dressed like a movie set or some cheesy theme joint. It’s still wearing the same dusty clothes it’s been donning for over a century. And I, for one, love it for all its crustiness and crotchetiness.

Sure there are sexy newcomers hitting the scene like Mile End and Russ and Daughters, but there’s something you have to appreciate about a place that’s been around before friggin’ cars and still packing ’em in! We’re talking Gangs of New York guys were swinging by here after a morning brawl to grab a bite. That’s so fucking cool that you can keep your caviar cream cheese and your chocolate babka french toast, because I want a bite of history, piled high with more meat than any one human being should probably consume in a week, dipped in some spicy-ass deli mustard and served up on a blissful, pillowy rye. Then, wash that down with some corned beef, pickles and matzoh ball soup and I’m good to hibernate until Spring.

5 teeth

 

 

Ess-a-Bagel

831 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10022(212) 980-1010 ess-a-bagel.com

two-dozen-ny-bagels-lox-cream-cheese.2d770d0bd1e2d67814b4f03d469bef94

There is raging debate as to who has the best bagel in the city and I think I have to give the edge to H&H or maybe even Russ & Daughters. But right on the heels for me would be Ess-a, especially if you are talking about the establishment as a whole, as I believe Ess-a-Bagel would then move up the second slot, because they simply crush H & H when it comes to things like whitefish salad, cream cheese, lox and sable.

Sure, you have to put up with the vaudeville-type lifers behind the counter who can turn your outing into a 20 minute soliloquy when all you want is a fucking bagel, but at least it’s worth it. In particular, the worthiest of the lot for me is their sesame bagel, scooped out, with whitefish salad, lettuce and tomato (or cucumber). The whitefish is salted to perfection and I’ve never had better. But just be sure get the bagel scooped as I mentioned, otherwise you’ll be lapping the whitefish off of your tray.

Equally worthy is their Nova on an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese and tomato.  The Nova is so damn buttery you will want to roll around in it like Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal. Be sure to get this, or the whitefish salad, with a half sour pickle and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda and you will be lost in Bagel bliss.

In terms of baked goods, Ess-a also has a few winners like their lemon pound cake in particular, but where they fall short for me is on the rugelach, and babkas. You can find far superior versions at Breads and Second Avenue Deli. But on the whole, Ess-a gets an A for breakfast, lunch or catering.

4 teeth

Russ & Daughters Cafe

127 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002(212) 475-4881russanddaughterscafe.com

CXFGwfzW8AA96i_

The kosher deli is like the tiger of restaurants, loved, but rapidly nearing extinction. As cited by the documentary Deli Man (an obscure Netflix gem), kosher delis in New York alone, have gone from over 1500 in number back in 1931, to today’s very depressing stat of just 21 establishments left. So, call it my Jewish guilt or moral obligation, but I felt the need to help turn the tides by turning my kids onto the glory that I lovingly call “Jew Food.” A cuisine unlike any other, that I have adored since childhood. But sadly, like many other bad Jews (apparently), I haven’t been back in years. Which is a shame, because there’s really no good reason. It’s not like going to Synagogue or anything. It’s actually quite enjoyable. And downright sinful.

Well, also turning the tides is a modern-day twist on the kosher deli, paying faithful homage to its diner roots, while also feeling contemporary somehow at the same time. That’s Russ and Daughters, a beacon of hope for the “chosen” cuisine.

Speaking of chosen things, our first choice was the Pastrami Russ, a small but crazy good sandwich made with their unique salmon pastrami, cucumber, coleslaw and deli mustard all on a cigar-sized pretzel roll, served next to a mountain of homemade waffle potato chips and a half sour pickle that also rocks. Mad mazels on this one.

But as good as the Pastrami Russ was, the Latkas stole the show. Easily the best I’ve ever had, done up at least a half inch thick with a hard, crusty outer layer and moist, fuffy innards. It’s Ultimate Latka perfection. Also, we had ‘em both ways, the new fangled crème fraiche and salmon roe way, as well as the ole tried and true apple sauce way. Both are good, but the kid in me still leans toward the classic A-sauce.

And while we’re on the topic of classics, the Classic Board with Nova, tomatoes, capers, red onions, cream cheese and an everything bagel was also very good. Not quite as inventive as some of the other twists, but as solid as you’ll find anywhere else in the city, Essa included. Granted the Nova is very lightly cured though, so nowhere near as salty as you might be used to.

Lox, eggs and onions were good, but not great. Partly due to the less salty lox, which is what makes this dish normally shine, ya know, cuz salt and eggs and all. That said, the rye bread that comes with it is another Ultimate. So flavorful and packed with texture. In fact, we loved it so much we walked up the street after breakfast to the Russ & Daughters store on Houston to buy a loaf. And my god is that thing dense. One loaf probably ways as much as a Mini Cooper.

We ended the meal on a duo of dishes from the “Sweet” column, the first being the Chocolate Babka French toast. Yes Challah, you just got trumped. Topped with fresh strawberries and sidled up next to a ramekin of sweet cream- no need for syrup on this thing. It’s richer than Daddy Warbucks.

Yet as wonderific as the Babka French Toast was, the kosher purist in me still found the Noodle Kugel to be the shiznet. It’s like muscle memory for your taste buds, bringing you back to that sweet noodle lovin’ fro your childhood that you just can’t deny. And wow did that sound way more child molesty than intended.

All in, Russ is tops in my book. Even if Gweneth Paltrow likes it too. From the incredibly fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices to both Ultimates I mentioned above to their caviar cream cheese that needs to make its way from store to café (hint-hint Russ).

4 teeth

Karakoy Lokantasi

Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mh., Kemankeş Cd No:37/A, İstanbul, Turkey • +90 212 292 4455 • karakoylokantasi.com
thumb_600

Karakoy is the dark horse of Istanbul if you ask me, which suits it nicely since the direct translation of its name is “dark village.” Such an unlikely, industrial waterfront turned so hip it could easily give Brooklyn a run for its money, filled with one incredible restaurant after another, a stunning, refurbished Hamam turned spa, and unique boutiques speckled throughout.

Yet, amidst all of the funkier, cooler restaurants there lies a much lower key option, not trying too hard to live on the edge, delivering all your classic meze with excellent service and a simple, inviting, understated (comparatively) décor.

That said, the mezes themselves were a bit on the hit and miss side, not quite living up to the raves. My favorite being the smoked bonito fish with red onion (lakerda). Perhaps it’s the latent Jew in me, responding to the reminiscent flavors of sable and red onions atop a bagel and cream cheese… Cue Homer Simpson drooling noises.

After that, both the mustard pickled levrek (sea bass) and the grilled octopus proved to be a solid yum, while the yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves) and sigara boregi (phyllo dough stuffed with feta) proved to be nothing memorable.

The only flat out miss was the midye dolma (stuffed mussels), which is normally my favorite meze of all mezes. But I have to say these might’ve been the worst I’ve ever had. I mean they really shat the seabed on this one. So much so that they should foot the bill to fly in Sehmus, the Midye Whisperer of Bodrum, to teach them how it’s done.

But back on a positive note, the cacik (yogurt and herbs) was thick and creamy, just the way I like it. Granted I like the more soupy version well- okay, I like practically anything with yogurt, but this was definitely on the better end of the cacik spectrum. In fact the only other I can claim was as good was at Beyoglu in New York. Also, the fig dessert (pictured) with kaymak was pretty tasty as well.

So not exactly an out-of-the-way must. And I can’t say I’m even sure that it’s better than the scads of much cooler looking places all around it, but after a glass or two of Ala Yeni Raki who even cares?

3 teeth

 

Bagel Emporium

95 King St. Chappaqua, NY1051 • (914) 238-9777bagelemporium.com

bagel-emporium-of-chappaque

I have no gripes with the service here, unlike the other reviews you might see. And no gripes with decor, although it is extremely basic and not a place you would ever want to spend more than 5 minutes on a grab ‘n go.

But most important to me for a bagel joint, shockingly, are the bagels. They are big and way too doughy, including the outer crust, which has absolutely no crunch to it. The seeded bagels are anemic, so much so that you’re likely to find more seeds left in your teeth after eating a sesame bagel from virtually anywhere else than you are to find on an entire sesame bagel at the Emporium,  BEFORE actually eating it.

And don’t get me started on the veggie cream cheese, which is more like a paste than actual “cream.”

I can beat a dead horse with the best of them, but I’m assuming by now you get the picture. So if you’re still looking for a go-to bagel place in the area, head to Mount Kisco Bagel Company. It’s not perfect either, but by comparison, it’s Ess a Bagel.

1 tooth

Espresso House

Vasagatan 22, Gothenburg, Sweden • espressohouse.se
1969516-Luscious_Licorice_Muffins_Goeteborg

I believe this is a Swedish chain, or perhaps a Nordic chain or maybe even a European chain, but having seen more than one location, I know it’s definitely a chain. Basically a Starbucks with local flavor.

I had a chai latte which was milkier than most, but still managed to do the trick. Guessing a 60/40 chai to milk ratio is a part of that “local flavor” I spoke of.

The other thing I tried was a bagel and lox sandwich. Risky I know, but if there’s anything the Swedes know how to do, it’s smoke fish. Now obviously it was a Swedish version of the New York City staple, accented with the nice addition of mache on top. And truth be told, it held up, bagel and all.

That said, I’m not saying you should trip over people trying to get to an Espresso House, but if it’s convenient and you need a fix, consider this your Starbucks away from home.

3 teeth

Mount Kisco Bagel Co.

480 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 241-0606
bagel

Definitely the best bagels in the area if you’re willing to endure the PAINFULLY slow service. And by “painful” I mean excruciating. For example, the the bagel in the picture above probably took about 15 minutes to slice in half. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but this is not…

The first time I went there I was only second in line with four employees behind the counter, so I figured I’d be in and out in a jiffy. Well, that was because I was foolishly optimistic about the natural order or the space-time continuum, but time itself was no match for the depths of inefficiency that unfolded before my bewildered eyes.

I witnessed a woman literally take one slice of cheese out at a time, using only one hand at a time, to then walk back to the cutting board where the bagel sandwich was being prepared some ten feet away, then back again to the cheese bin where she then proceeded to pick up a second slice, again using only one hand, not bothering to grab even a single other ingredient in the process. Then, there were multiple trips to the back room by every one of them, each only doing one task at a time, and each only servicing one request from the previous order, top to bottom, at a time. Somewhere an assembly line must’ve been rolling over in its grave.

But at least the bagels were worth it. Also, to be fair, since I’ve been back, they must’ve gotten enough complaints to speed up their act, either that or I’m still waiting in line there and I’ve just acclimated to the time vortex.

3 teeth