Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mourning My Morning Routine

You all know Bart Giamatti’s quote about baseball being designed to break your heart. I’m beginning to think the same is true about bagel stores.

New Yorkers will back me on this. The bagel is the perfect breakfast food, if not perfect food altogether.

And I’ve learned that once you get outside the New York area, bagel quality drops sharply. That is unless you’re in some parts of Florida, which might as well be the sixth borough.

Out here in the Midwest it’s especially rough. There aren't that many bagel places to begin with, and the ones that are here just don't make the grade. They bestow the bagel title upon any round breaded thing that’s not a donut.

My first four years in Grand Rapids I suffered through a place that dared to call itself "Big Apple Bagels." They were too hard and too thin — but it was all I had.

Then one glorious day about two years ago a place called "Brooklyn Bagels" opened right near my house and on the way to work.

It was darn near perfect. Framed prints of the homeland — including a sweet photo of Jackie Robinson stealing home — hung on the walls, the sandwiches were named after New York landmarks and the bagels were as close to Long Island as I have encountered since crossing the bridge.

Reflecting on Jackie Robinson's greatness is a good way to start the day.

So it didn’t take long before I got to know the entire staff on a first-name basis. They were my morning family. They'd talk about my stories in the papers, I'd ask about the son serving in Iraq or the daughter in school. My wife, on the few times she accompanied me to the store, was amazed that I’d know all about everyone’s kids and they knew mine.

And they’d have my order ready when they saw the silver Saturn pull up. A poppy seed bagel, toasted with butter, and an extra-large cup that I’d fill with Diet Pepsi. I strongly prefer Diet Coke, but everything else was so good I could overlook this flaw.

On days when I was feeling really wild I’d get a sesame seed bagel. This boldness would be a topic of conversation for the rest of the week.

I'm a creature of routine. I have a short, 12-mile commute and traffic here is nothing like it is back home. It's actually a peaceful time. I eat my bagel in the car, and it lasts most of the trip.

Work can be a bear, especially lately. There's something nice about starting the day with the same friendly people and the same wonderful snack. When everything else was in chaos, the morning routine was blissfully constant.

Then last April the unthinkable happened. The morning family had to break it to me gently that the owner had over-extended himself and was going to be closing the store.

There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. On the last day they sent me off with two-dozen poppy seed bagels I could freeze for a transitional period.

It was a very difficult time. I don’t want to dwell on it. Let’s just say many new places were tried, all failed. Mornings were started unsatisfied and grumpy.

Occasionally I’d drive by the bagel store and put my nose up against the window to see if there were any developments. I held out hope because even though the store was closed, nothing inside had changed.

Then one day in the summer, signs appeared in the window saying a new cafe-deli was to open. The name was different, but there was reason for optimism, if nothing else.

And on a beautiful afternoon I saw that the open sign was lit. I pulled right over, went in and was thrilled to see all the old friends were there. The new owner had hired nearly all the previous employees.

It was a happy reunion, and my morning routine was saved. Me, the friends, the poppy seed bagels and extra-large Diet Pepsis -- it was all good. I could start the day with that extra little bounce that only comes with a happy routine.

Now, when you are in a place every morning, you notice little things. The new store was never as crowded as it was in the previous incarnation. Some of the friends would leave and not be replaced. There were fewer donuts, cookies and other menu offerings available. Some days there weren’t even poppy seed bagels. I started to get worried.

One day last week I bounced into the store and my friend Becky softly told me the news. The latest version of the store was closing. They lasted just seven months.

On Friday they gave me two-dozen poppy seed bagels to put in the freezer and start the transitional period, again.

In Other Words:

Speaking of beverages and morning routines, one daily ritual is not going away, and that's reading Faith and Fear in Flushing. Greg is resurrecting his awesome Friday Flashback series to tell us about the glorious 1986 season. You can read it here.


Anonymous said...

That's funny, good luck finding another good bagel - a worthy cause indeed.

Sunshine Sis said...

Let me know when the 2 dozen are gone and I'll send some from the sixth borough!

Wild Duck of CT said...

H&H bagels sells their bagels over the web. If your desperate, might be worth a try. I kinda empathize with you. If I don't get my weekly bagel fix on Sunday, I get crabby.

Metstradamus said...

Dave, you should read this:

Metstradamus said...

I remember when my buddy and I first realized there was an empty parking lot in place of the Big Bow Wow on Cross Bay Blvd. which was our post-beach staple...almost drove off the road. We had a moment of silence for the Big Bow Wow for years every time we drove past the's a Friendly's now.

Then there's Howard Zhou's chinese restaurant, with possibly the best sweet and sour chicken and shredded beef with garlic sauce in the 5 boroughs. It was replaced by a Jewish deli, of which there was already a great one near us so it didn't make sense. It's always sad when you lose not only a restaurant, but a staple and a routine. Brutal.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Thank you Sis and Duck! I might have to resort to such measures! Metstra, I feel your pain!

Joe said...

dude no food is as good as back in ny. It bogels my mind. I live in ohio where all the food is grown but they send all the good stuff ot ny. wtf?

When I go to the deli . . . or deli department of the supermarket which is the closest thing you can get, it pains them to slice cold cuts the proper way nice and thin so you can put as you much on. Nope everything has to be a freakin quarter of an inch thick practically.

i'm a bit disgruntled about the food thing . . .