I am a New York Jew living in the Midwest just looking for a great bagel. Why bagels and why now you ask? 2023 was a crappy year for me on several fronts. My mom died in October and I feel unmoored by it. I want something fun to looked forward to in 2024 - thus the quest for a great bagel. But there is something deeper in this quest for me as well. I have lived happily in the Midwest for the last thirty years, but I have never shaken the feeling that I am not living in the right place. And how weird it feels to not live in a place without tangible Jewishness (at least that is recognizable to me.) I miss the anxious energy, the sharp sense of humor, people inserting themselves in my business. I contend that this attitude and my childhood memories can be distilled down to the New York-style bagel...my cultural comfort food...a bagel that has been properly fermented, boiled, and steamed. What is the quest? I will be driving to visit bagel stores and taste test Midwestern bagels and judging the bagels from the NY bagel standard. I will be traveling each time with a friend who lives in the Midwest but was born and raised in the greater NY area. I am hoping to learn some Midwest Jewish history, what food brings people comfort, and any feeling of Jewish home I can find along the way. The quest brings together many of my favorite things. A great bagel. Chittchatting with strangers. Talking to small business owners to learn their small business origin story. Researching history to find out when the bagels (and Jews for that matter) first came to Midwestern cities.
How am I choosing which shops to visit? I have four sources: 1: What foodie magazines/blogs say about where the best bagels in the country are located - and visit the ones in the Midwest; 2. What Jewish magazines/blogs (e.g. Nosher) identify as the best bagel store in each state; 3. What the unwashed masses of the crowdsourced 'Google user reviews' say about the best bagels in each state; 4. What local insiders say are the best bagels in their state.