Update: H+H closed their Broadway retail store in June 2011.
If there’s one thing I really like, it’s a good bagel, in particular a New York style one. Unfortunately, fewer things in life seem more certain than the exponential decay in bagel quality one experiences as you move further in distance from NYC. By the time you are barely 50 miles into Connecticut most bagels have been replaced by some sort of circular bread product that resembles a bagel only slightly in appearance, and even less in taste. It’s as if someone took a real bagel, described it in writing, and made someone re-invent it from that description. Most “bagels” leave me disappointed and wanting. And sometimes it’s rather hard to explain, since their exists a pretty big bagel gap: it seems that most people outside NYC have never actually had a good bagel (for example, seeing the gushing reviews on Yelp for one of our local bad bagel ships), don’t know what a bagel should be, and wrongly think that all bagels taste the same. On the other hand, I’ve met several people in NYC that haven’t ever had a bad bagel.
For me, a trip to NYC is really the true antidote. There’s a lot of places I’ve gotten excellent bagels in Manhattan. Tal Bagels on the Upper East Side. Daniel’s near Grand Central. Murray’s in the Village. And Kossar’s on the Lower East Side. But the grandfather of them all is H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side. The common knowledge is that H&H bagels are the best. Kramer worked there on Seinfeld. And their sign itself proclaims “Like no other bagel in the World”.
I think the prevailing wisdom is right in this case. A good H&H bagel was the perfect heft, not too heavy, not too light. A very nice dense, chewy, doughy interior with a few air pockets. The crust is sturdy, brown, and smooth, with the bottom being slightly caramelized. That is what a bagel should be. If you aren’t eating something that matches this description, well, it’s not a bagel.