Here's a post about the bagels and pizza part of my trip. The other stuff will follow at a later date.
I'm not going to rehash all that's wrong with bagels outside of New York. In fact, it turns out that New York is no longer immune to bagel atrocities, as 4 out of 4 bagel shops on this trip were guilty of the cross-cutting I railed against in the linked post. I'll use this space instead to rank 4 rather popular places I tried, from worst to best.
4. Worst was Pick-A-Bagel (3rd Ave and 23rd St), with monstrous bagels with no flavor and a soft, crustless texture throughout.
3. In 3rd place came the famous Murray's Bagels on 8th Avenue in Chelsea, with bagels more reasonably sized and better flavored, but still missing the textural contrast I want between a crisper exterior crust and a chewy interior.
2. Next came an outlet of a place called Brooklyn Bagels, this one also on 8th Avenue, just a block from Murray's. Bagels here were as huge as Pick-A and lacked textural contrast, but the unique malty, sweet flavor won me over. My love for these bagels might stem from nostalgia, as these are very similar in style to the now defunct H&H bagels I enjoyed many times after late night bar hopping on the Upper West Side in my early 20's. The bagels are probably too sweet, but the everything-bagel variety has enough big salt crystals to balance that out beautifully. I don't think I'd want to eat a plain bagel or any non-salt-topped variety from Brooklyn Bagels.
1. In first place came Ess-a-Bagel on 1st Avenue at 21st Street. This had everything I want: a reasonably small size, great contrast between the crust and the interior, and excellent yeasty flavor accented by just a touch of malt and a little sweetness. And don’t try to order a toasted bagel here. They know better than you.
I should note that besides Pick-A, all of the bagel shops above are better than bagel shops anywhere outside of NY.
Pizza:Almost every article about “NY Pizza” gets it wrong. Lists of “The Best NY Pizza” are comical in their misunderstanding of the genre. Di Fara, Lombardi’s, Patsy’s – these are all fine pizzas similar to the best pizzas you can find in places like Arizona and Kansas. They’re distinctly New York places, but they’re not making distinctly New York pizza. New York pizza is not made by artisans. It has no resemblance to the Old Country, and although it is undeniably great, it isn’t necessarily good. What makes something “New York Pizza” is the fact that’s it’s cheap, fast, foldable for consumption on the run, reheated in a scorching oven, and ubiquitous. That’s all great stuff that exists almost nowhere else. Where is the best New York pizza? Wherever you happen to be standing when you’re hungry and have just some loose change left in your pocket.