Will you PLEASE do a bagel review? a reader named JT requested a while back, following a post on the mediocrity of Tim Horton’s donuts. I don’t know what kind of review you’ve got in mind, JT, but I do have a tip for you: The Bagel Hole in the South Slope has the best bagels in Brooklyn, and probably the whole city.
It took me a while to realize it this, though. When I moved nearby a few years ago and started going there they seemed kinda small and kinda hard. This is a common reaction, I was later told by Phil Romanzi, who’s owned the narrow, no-frills shop for close to 25 years. If your notion of a bagel is a dough bomb as big and round as a softball and as soft as a Twinkie, then they take getting used to. And it almost certainly is, unless you’re of a certain age and grew up in or around the five boroughs.
Romanzi’s bagels reflect an old-school bagel aesthetic — small, crusty and chewy. As any Brooklyn old-timer can tell you, this is what bagels were before they got Wonder Breaded, and morphed into something softer, sweeter and as big as a bulkie roll. I didn’t know any of this when I started eating them, and like I said, I didn’t immediately recognize that they’re not just different, but better.
That hit home to me after I toasted one that had sat hardening in the bag all day and was struck by how it came to life — by the satisfying crunch, the superior texture and flavor. Now this was a bagel, and it’s since ruined me for all others. (Including those from nearby Terrace Bagels in Windsor Terrace, which are much-touted for reasons that escape me.)
Eventually I learned a little bit about how the bagel had changed and what the Bagel Hole’s product represents, in part from asking Romanzi, who learned his craft years ago from an old-timer in Sheepshead Bay. He slaves long, hot hours by the oven, and takes stubborn pride in carrying the torch, refusing to make his wares bigger to satisfy those who deride them as “mini-bagels,” or use the dough conditioner (nicknamed “Reddi Sponge”) most bagel makers now rely on for a soft texture and longer shelf life.
The result of that dedication is bagel greatness, which can be enjoyed for under a buck — $1.15 with butter.
The ultra-thrifty can pick up a whole bag of day-olds by the front door for couple dollars, and while even the Brokavore prefers to dig deep for one hot from the oven, as I noted before, stale ones revive nicely with a little toasting.
The Bagel Hole, 400 Seventh Ave., between 12th and 13th Sts. 718-788-4014.