Despite my equal opportunity approach to coffee I am still baffled by how many New Yorkers seem numbed to whether or not their coffee is tasty. Given the superior attitude of New Yorkers (I'm not knocking it, assuming said attitude in good company is one of the reasons I like living here) I'm not sure why they don't seem to have demanded excellence where coffee is concerned. Plus, coffee is such an easy thing to wax snobby about, effortless elitism! For people who will rant about fluffy bagels until the cows come home, lattes masquerading as cappuccinos and abominable chai don't seem to irk them much.
Which brings me to bagels, an article to which I claim absolutely no attachment. Bagels were not part of my regular childhood diet, I have no fond memories of getting piping hot bagels with my parents every weekend and piling them with lox and whenever I found myself in Noah's I usually got a bialy or some rugelach. That said, I still understand the controversy surrounding traditional bagels versus the puffy interlopers. My problem with the puffies is not that they buck tradition, but that there is absolutely no point in eating a bagel unless it is of the small, dense, crisp variety and liberally piled with a cream cheese varietal and preferably some smoked fish. With these combined elements, a bagel becomes something special, an actual dish. Without them, you might as well eat a piece of good toast or munch on a baguette. You could get away with just buttering a bagel, but it had better be a damn fine bagel or it is a veritable waste of caloric intake. I'd rather eat slices of flank steak plain than construct a sandwich of wonderbread, and I'd rather eat lox with my fingers than put it on a pillowy excuse for a bagel.
Lucky for me there are two places in the Southish Slope that allow me to feel superior in both my coffee and bagel intake. The first is Café Regular, a pint-sized little gem that serves up La Colombe coffee straight and to the point. Aside from orange juice and an assortment of pastries from Baked and Sullivan Street, the offerings are coffee and only coffee. While small enough that you can reach over and touch the bar from the bench running along the wall, it is a pleasant place to sit and steeped in faux-Parisian-ness. Clichéd as it may be, you can't argue with the comforting nature of the décor and the cumulative effect of warm wood panelling, bric a brac that could have been lifted from a grand-mère's attic or twentieth-century train station and a piping hot double cappuccino.
After securing your caffeine, hit up the Bagel Hole. Don't be dissuaded by the lack of ambiance, the energy here goes into the bagels. Sporting little other than a counter and wire baskets of bagels, the Bagel Hole serves up the densest, most flavorful and inevitably warm from the oven bagels I've found in New York. They don't need a toaster because the bagels are always warm and crisp, they don't skimp on the spreads and the price is right. I don't see myself regularly trudging down to the Bagel Hole, but if I do eat a bagel I make it count.
Demand the best! Enjoy the worst! Here's to inconsistent yet unyielding snobbery!
Café Regular - 318 11th Street between 4th and 5th
The Bagel Hole - 400 7th Avenue between 11th and 12th