September 12, 2005 1:49 AM | By Adam Roberts | 5 Comments

High Drama and Warm Bagels at Ess-A-Bagel

Back in my Chowhounding days, before I lived in New York, I had a list on the back page of a moleskin notebook of places Chowhounders revered in the city. I actually still have that moleskin in my desk somewhere. The summer before I moved to New York, I stayed with Lisa and used that Chowhounded moleskin as a guide, trying lots of quirky places like Gem Spa for great egg creams. One of those places was Ess-A-Bagel on 1st Ave. for "the best bagel in NY" (according to the Chowhounders.)

This morning I had the Sunday Times in my satchel bag and, it being beautiful outside, a desire to walk far for a bagel. So I walked five avenues over and two blocks down to Ess-A-Bagel, where I hadn't been in two years:


The walk was really pretty---I passed Gramercy Park which, apparently, you need a special key to enter. I also passed the Gramercy Tavern where I'd like to go some day.

Inside Ess-A-Bagel, there was a line. Here is a picture of that line:


The high drama mentioned in the title of this post came when these women, at the front of the line, went to pay for their bagels. "Two bagels, everything on it," said the man at the register. "We didn't want everything on it," said the woman. The man said, "I asked you if you wanted everything on it, you said yes." "Well we don't want everything on it. We never said that."

I may be getting the details wrong, but that was the basic exchange. And it culminated with the man saying, "What do you want me to do with these bagels then? Throw them out?"

The women huffed. "You don't talk to customers that way," said one of them. "Don't give me that," said the man. "I'm leaving," said one of the women. "Me too," said another. "You're very rude," she said as a final thought on her way out. She was wearing rollerblades.

Now I was already a little turned off by this guy's behavior. I mean, maybe these women did accidentally say everything when they didn't want everything, but still "the customer is always right"...right? But then he did something gross. He disassembled the bagels they didn't buy and scraped the cream cheese back into the bins and put everything else back. Gross!

(I guess not as gross as if he took a half eaten bagel and did the same thing.)

Eventually it was my turn to order and I was very careful to say: "Everything bagel, lox spread, tomato and onion." I decided to get lox spread because, for me, it has the perfect ratio of lox to cream cheese and I don't feel all oily and heavy like I do when I eat salty, briny slices of smoked salmon in the middle of the day. (Sure, once in a while, like at Russ and Daughters, but not every Sunday.)

Here's the resulting bagel:


The best part, right away, is that the bagel was warm. Probably fresh from the oven. This made it easier to chew, though it melted the cream cheese a bit. Was it fantabulous? No. But it was very good. Easier to chew than a Murray's bagel but somehow not as hefty. And I like the lox spread better at Murray's.

My ideal bagel, then, would be a Murray's shaped bagel baked at Ess-A-Bagel and served with lox from Russ & Daughters. I will market these bagels under the name Murr-A-Bagel and Daughters. And if you order it with everything and change your mind, not only will I not yell at you, the bagel's on the house. I'm a bagel business prodigy!


I can't believe the guy at Ess-a-Bagel actually said that to the customer. And then he put everything back? And you didn't run screaming? You're a better man than I, truly.

I've been to the Ess a Bagel on 3rd ave (and 50th? or thereabouts).

IMO, it's basically crap. Extremely over rated. The bagel are too tough. I've never had them delivered warm.
Yet there are hordes of people on line presumably because they just don't know any better (or any better place).

Gramercy Bagels on 3rd and 21st serves a better bagel and has a friendly staff. Save yourself 2 avenues of walking next time.

Liz - do you live in New York ? I can totally believe that exchange. I bet you something like that happens a couple of times a DAY at Ess-A-Bagel. They are cranky people. It's part of the 'charm' of the place. I'd want to yell at that girl just for wearing rollerblades in the store. I hate that.

I like Murray's bagels better because Ess-A-Bagel are just too darn huge.

I switched to David Bagel on 19th and 1st because I couldn't take the attitude at Ess-A-Bagel. I went back recently because the have multigrain bagels. The guy behind the counter was pissy when I said I didn't want anything on my bagel. He was really annoyed when I came back because he had given me the wrong bagel.

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