Food Fight: Bagels
The dense and chewy vs. light and poofy debate over bagels is, for many, not a debate. So for some of you this Food Fight may be over before it even begins. Nonetheless, we think the topic merits discussion. For example, wouldn't you say that certain toppings are better on one kind of bagel than another? Cream cheese seems a perfect mate to the chewy type whereas peanut butter seems to work better on the more billowy ones. Eh? Here's how solid representatives from each camp stack up against each other. This could get ugly.
A plain Common Roots bagel (l) and a water bagel from Cecil's (r)
Common Roots bagels represent the dense'n'chewy camp. Like most bagels, they are boiled and then baked. Theirs have a bubbly, brown exterior and are slightly flat and misshapen (they are individually hand-rolled) -- oh, and did we mention freaky dense? -- while still somehow managing to be soft. They have a pleasant dusting of cornmeal on the bottom which gives them a bit of added texture and crunch. There is also a simultaneous, vague saltiness and sweetness (the dough has a little honey in it) to the flavor. Here's how Rachel described them in a 2008 review:
With farm names becoming as trendy as designer handbag brands, "sustainable eating" was starting to sound less like sincerity than marketing buzz. But then I tried one of Common Roots' bagels, which was my first tip-off to the talent in the kitchen. The bagel's crust--pleasantly chewy, with a thin, crackling veneer--vastly distinguished it from its pillowy peers. The experience was like biting into the seat of a diner booth--and I mean that in a good way.
Cecil's is a great, neighborhoody spot to stop in for a bite or to stock up on your deli needs when you're in Highland Park. When you're there, you'll probably see one of those tall baking carts, stacked with tray after tray after tray, likely including some of the deli's bagels. Like Common Roots,' Cecil's makes their bagels on site (with the exception of some less popular varieties, which they bring in and bake). However, after boiling them, Cecil's adds six minutes of steam (with a steam invection oven) to the baking process, a more modern addition to the bagel baking process. This is followed by 20 or so additional minutes of regular baking.
The water bagel has a thin, crunchy exterior, and tucking in, you're rewarded with a soft poofy burst of bready softness. It's soft and pliable and fun to mush and push and flatten as you eat it. You can also stock up on, say, rugulach, hamentashen and babka while you're at Cecil's -- not a bad deal! (Cecil's also prides itself on its mustard selection.)
The Winner: Ok fine, you bagel sticklers you. Common Roots' bagels win out. It's true, having to wrestle with a bagel, not unlike a dog with a particularly appealing chew toy, is somehow more desirable than the much more civilized consumption of a soft, baked bagel. Bonus: Common Roots has rockin cream cheese in varying flavors. We recommend the garlic dill chive (damn!) It must be noted, however, that Cecil's, at 60 cents, beat out Common Roots,' which are 95 cents-a-pop.