Let’s be clear about a couple of things; true bagels are not those hockey pucks you buy frozen at the grocery stores. Nor do they come in Frankenbagel flavors such as maple-pumpkin, blueberry or pomegranate. Those flavors are fine for doughnuts, but bagels tend to be savory (the one exception is cinnamon-raisin-but even that’s pushing it).
Many who come to South Florida from a northern city with a sizable Jewish population bemoan the fact that there aren’t any good bagels down here. They just don’t where to look. The bagels will be slightly different in each area of the country due to the quality of the water, even though the basic bagel recipe may be the same. Bagels are primarily made from flour, water and after rising, the bagel is then boiled before it is baked. The two-step method of cooking gives a bagel its distinctive glossy surface and chewy texture. A true bagel also uses malt barley syrup in its recipe which is what give a bagel its, well there’s no other word than “bagelness.”
In the end what matters is how the bagel tastes and while no bagel here is exactly the same as in NYC or Chicago, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t terrific bagels to be found. I’ve sampled bagels from all over South Florida and these are among the best:
Brooklyn Water Bagel
2878 Stirling Rd.
Hollywood (multiple locations)
These folks use a proprietary water treatment system called “Brooklyn Water Works” which the company claims enables them to replicate the “natural composition of the water that flows from the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York into the homes of Brooklyn residents.” I don’t know how true that is, but the bagels sure taste like NYC bagels! That water also makes for some pretty terrific coffee. There are about a dozen locations including Boca, Boynton Beach, Delray and Palm Beach Gardens, but the Stirling location offers the opportunity to watch the bagels being prepared.
11300 Legacy Ave.
Palm Beach Gardens (multiple locations)
What started as a family-owned storefront has evolved into a mini-chain (there are also stores in Jupiter and West Palm Beach). While I’m always suspicious of a Jewish deli that offers a BLT, much less spells “boyz” in such a trendy manner, I have to admit the bagels are pretty terrific. The lox and cream cheese are very good as well. And, how could you not love a place that also makes doggie bagels?
Pomperdale New York Style Deli
3055 E. Commercial Blvd.
About as close as you can get to an authentic New York Jewish deli (the counter folks are just a tad too pleasant to pass for New Yorkers). The lox is hand sliced, the chicken soup tastes better than my mother’s. The kugel and the knishes are to die for.
Sage Bagel & Appetizer Shop
800 E Hallandale Beach Blvd.
Started 40 years ago, Sage is still in a single location and everything is made from scratch. This is a true Mom and Pop organization, founded and run by Milton and Iris Fuerst. As they’ve gotten older the couple may not be as active in the day to day operations, but the kids and grandkids have stepped in so Sage is always supervised by a family member. Breakfast and lunch are served daily and the deli counter is open until 6 p.m. There are a variety of bagel platters and the lox version is a deal at less than $16 (with enough for two if you order an extra bagel.) The whitefish salad is out of this world.
1237 Powerline Rd.
This isn’t the slickest place. To quote the web site “We offer a selection of fresh baked pastries, rolls, cakes and of coarse (sic) fresh bagels every day. All baking done on premise.” But, it’s those last five words that matter, even if the grammar and spelling are wrong. The bagels are usually warm, fresh out of the oven and always fresh and perfectly made. It’s only open until 3 p.m., so don’t dawdle. If you decide to dine in at this reasonably priced, old-school deli/restaurant, the waitresses (certainly not something as fancy as “servers”) might call you “Honey.” If you order after 11 a.m., you’ll get a complimentary bowl of “healthy salad” (cole slaw with a sweet and sour vinegar base) and pickles.