I'm always happy when someone who makes food from scratch is successful. And unlike those food critics who seem to take joy in comminuting anyone who dares to offend their sense of gastronomic superiority, it is very difficult for me to criticize anyone who through hard work and honest effort makes their living by cooking or baking.
But it made me a little sad to hear a couple of friends from the Upper West Side describe H&H Bagels as the best in NY when to me they represent everything that has been wrong with bagels since about 1975 when it started to become impossible to find bagels that were not the billowy , cloyingly sweet, Quaalude-to-the-jaw, "bagel-muffin" hybrid that dominate the market today.
I'm not sure what it would take to turn back the clock on NY bagels and bring them back to their former state as the yeasty, compact, tough and flavor-packed antithesis to the bloated rings of underbaked-goo that pass for genuine Gotham bagels today.
Anyone opening a shop selling bagels of the type that I ate as a kid (which can still be found in Canada, BTW) would have the tough job of persuading a public that thinks these bagel-muffins are "true bagels."
And let's face it, bagel-muffins have intrinsic advantages over their predecessors. One of the reasons for the demise of the old style bagel was the shift towards a more casual approach to eating in public. In the NYC metro area before the late '60's you rarely saw adults eating while walking or driving. But as more people moved to the suburbs (making for longer commutes to work in the city) and cars got easier to drive, the old taboos about eating while moving broke down, giving rise to an explosion of soft, hand held convenience foods that could be eaten "on the run." In contrast, pre bagel-muffins were hard to eat while walking. In fact they were so chewy that it's not hard to imagine that eating one while driving or on a crowded street or subway train could be downright dangerous. (Here I am trying to imagine being a straphanger during the Lindsay Administration who has overcome the resistance of a bagel by biting down and yanking and now has to defend himself against the guy who just got my elbow in his face.)
I'm guessing that anyone who tries to resurrect the all but extinct bagel that was THE bagel between the late 19th Century and about 1975 (when I last remember buying some in Brooklyn; I know, so not scholarly.) should open in a residential neighborhood and plan to do A LOT of marketing. In the meantime, anyone who wants to experience what bagels used to be like, may have to make them themselves of travel far outside of NYC to find them.