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.
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.