Monday, August 6, 2007

A Neighborhood Balks at a Chain Restaurant -with Good Reason

While the middle to high end dining scene in New York has been improving for decades the low-end dining scene has been getting worse as franchise operations have muscled out mom and pop delis and sandwich shops all over town. I'm not sure when it all began. Probably sometime between around the demise of the automat and the appearance of the first Blimpies in the '70's -but the trend is unmistakable. Nowadays, it's virtually impossible to get a bagel that doesn't have the texture of a kaiser roll and is half the size of your face. That NY bagels are still better than bagels elsewhere is testimony only to how bad the other stuff is, nothing more. (Don't get me going about bagels. I haven't had really good bagel since 1974, and believe me, I've looked for them.)

Those fabulous kosher delis on the lower east side with their barrels full of butter and cases filled with smoked fish and halvah are all but gone. These places were so fabulous that as a kid, I used to skip school and hop the Long Island Railroad into the city and ride the subway downtown just to catch up on my smoked whitefish studies. Now it's easier to get lousy Big Mac in Manhattan than it is to get a bag full of roasted chestnuts or a decent knish. The situation is not much better in the boroughs, with banal mass produced franchise food, vending machines and bags of junk hanging from display wracks like so much poisoned fruit in the garden of Beelzebub.

Of course the reality of the situation is more complicated than a simple situation of well-financed bad guys rubbing out the competition with superior marketing, out bidding on leases and adding addictive drugs to their crappy food :-). The market has changed as ethnic Europeans have died and moved out of the city to be replaced by folks who have different ideas about what constitutes a proper bagel or in an especially irksome case, pizza. In this recent NY Times article we read about how a neighborhood pizzeria on Brooklyn that is faced with the prospect of having to compete with a miserable but successful Papa John's that wants to move in next door A Neighborhood Balks at a Chain Restaurant.

Madonna mia, I hate it.


The Foodist said...

Its soooo hard to find really good pizza. I grew up eating my mothers "Home made pizza dough" (out of a can sadly but still hand tossed and "fresh"). No offense to my mother but it wasnt the greatest. At the time it was fantastic, but then came mother leaving the house to work and 5 boys become latchkey. Enter stage left Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, and Dominos.

It wasnt till a few short years ago that I experienced the joy that is NY pizza. Mama Gina's in Valley Stream NY as well as Ginos on Long Island were constant sources of pizza cravings for me for a long time.

as for bagels, I could probably name a place or two that MIGHT have some glimmer of hope for your bagel search.

Bob del Grosso said...

Oh, I know you can still get good pizza in NY Foodist, but it is a lot more rare than most people believe it is -I aver. As for bagels; I doubt you can show me the kind of bagel that used to be commonplace when I was a kid in the 1960's. These bagels were smaller and tougher than anything I've seen. Even H&H, which still made them that way in the early 70's don't make them like that anymore.
You can bet that anyone making bagels like that would end up alienating most of the market.
Those bagels were really hard to chew, and the subject of jokes from borscht-belt comedians for years.

It been so long that I've heard a joke that played on the tough character of bagels that I can't even remember one.

I think I'm going to have to do some research to find some of those old jokes...

Tags said...

Johnny ought to open a pizza hut next to the jerklord 10 blocks away.

The Foodist said...

This is true I suppose. I cant say Ive found any that match the description thats for sure. ive found some good ones with a nice chewy crust but soft middles.

Don Luis said...

Why do sea-gulls fly over the sea?

Because if they flew over the bay they would be bagels.

I lived in Buffalo in the 60s, and we couldn't even find white bread, so maybe I don't know what a real bagel is, but Rosenfelds in Newton Massachusetts had bagels I enjoyed every Sunday. They (the bagels) were small and chewy. I used to grab a half dozen, then go next door to Tutto Italiano for my salumi and cheese fix. I don't know if Rosenfelds is still there, but I know Tutto Italinano in Newton closed years ago.

Such is the price of a melting pot.

Now that I haven't had a bagel in years (I don't count Sara Lee), I'd gladly take a Dunkin' Donuts baked.

Simon said...

Bob, I have two words for you: Montreal bagels

Wood ovens, smallish bagels, made 24 hours a day at St-Viateur or Fairmount Bagels.

Gary said...

Bagels have definitely gotten larger and softer (they're typical of all ethnic foods in America -- whatever distinctive qualities a food may originally have are systematically stripped away until what remains is denuded of any characteristics that might offend the sensibilities of a Northern European).

I did find lots of bagel jokes, but most of them are about ethnic differences, not culinary ones.

There is this, however:

Like most foods, there are legends surrounding the bagel although I don't know any. There have been persistent rumors that the inventors of the bagel were the Norwegians who couldn't get anyone to buy smoked lox. Think about it: Can you picture yourself eating lox on white bread? Rye? A cracker?? Naaa. They looked for something hard and almost indigestible which could take the spread of cream cheese and which doesn't take up too much room on the plate. And why the hole? The truth is that many philosophers believe the hole is the essence and the dough is only there for emphasis. (

One of your correspondents mentioned Montreal as a source of real bagels -- and it's a strong possibility.

The Boulangerie St. Viateur Bagel Shop (which, if you might have any lingering doubts, also sports a sign that says "Maison du Bagel") is worth a visit. But you had better hurry -- Canadians seem to fall into American bad habits a decade or so after we do.

While you're there, get some of the smoked brisket at Schwartz's -- just don't try to get in on a weekend, or when there's a street fair).