The ubiquitous New York bagel has, for many years, operated as a shadow of its former self, with the worst offenders being puffy to the point of losing their shape yet leaden and tasteless enough to use as a dog’s chew toy. So you have to hand it to Noah Bernamoff and Matt Kliegman, restaurateurs in their own right and co-owners of Black Seed Bagels (170 Elizabeth Street, 212-730-1950). (That Nolita purveyor you’ve maybe heard a thing or two about?) While there are at least a baker’s dozen of good-to-excellent bagel shops populating the city, as well as East River Bread’s tremendous offerings at Smorgasburg and beyond, you can (and we did) add Black Seed to the list of great vendors.
Like New York (but less of a real estate nightmare), Montreal champions its old guard restaurants and food shops, from Willensky’s and Schwartz’s sandwiches to Snowden’s Deli and Fairmount Bagel (now I’m craving a Coffee Crisp). These outfits are beloved for their timelessness, where recipes and cooking techniques have resisted change for decades. With Black Seed, the menschy duo have submitted a fairly airtight case for bringing Montreal-style bagels to New York, and they’ve done so in an attractive space dominated by white tile and dark wood.
Cro-nutty lines formed during its first days in business thanks to a blitz of coverage. I thought I saw someone foaming at the mouth until I realized that it was cream cheese. Thankfully, after a weekend that saw hours-long waits, the rush for hand-rolled, boiled, and wood-fired dough seems to have died down. The team took Monday off to cater an event and regroup its retail operation, which reopened Tuesday. Lines didn’t form until around 8 a.m., and a bagel-monger confirms that the store stayed busy while avoiding last week’s congestion.
Black Seed’s bagels are Montreal-inspired. Sweeter and thinner than our hometown beauties, they incorporate honey into both the dough and the water used for boiling. At the moment, the shop sells eight kinds of bagels (sesame, poppyseed, multigrain, salt, garlic, everything, pumpernickel, and plain) for $1.50 each, a half-dozen for $8, and a baker’s dozen for $15. Sesame bagels are Montreal’s doughy calling card, and these are delightfully soft and chewy with a glossy, toothsome crust from the wood oven, a focal point of the shop’s prep area. They’re also aggressively seeded, causing the browned sesame to almost form a crust of its own.
Among the ambitious house-made spreads and sliced fish, it’s the little touches that delight, like colorful watermelon radishes and almond butter. You can order from a menu of signature sandwiches, or build your own. Rainbow trout is a native New York fish, and the smoked stuff they’re peddling at Black Seed comes in sturdy hunks. I topped mine with sprouts, cucumber, and a vivid cream cheese spread, salty and hot pink thanks to flying fish roe. On a sesame bagel, the sandwich sparkled with salt, smoke, sweetness, and the snap of fresh vegetables.
I chose a poppy seed bagel as the yeasty canvas for a signature sandwich of beet-cured lox, horseradish cream cheese, watermelon radish slices, and herbs. Although the horseradish was fairly tame this time around, the watermelon radishes, dill, and parsley add a welcome freshness to the earthy cured salmon, whose sweetness is bolstered by the root vegetable’s sugars.
Covered in oats, a whole wheat bagel was nearly as nutty and sweet as the sesame, and robust enough to stand up to smoked bluefish spread. Folded into cream cheese, the dairy softens the oily, local fish’s notorious strong flavor.
Provided the lines continue to subside, I’m looking forward to eating through more of the menu — they were out of pumpernickel (whose deep, malty flavors are my favorite foil for smoked fish) on this visit.
So far, given the love they’re putting into the craft, Bernamoff and Kliegman deserve all the love they’re getting in return.