Welcome to the Great Bagel Boom, a series celebrating the vast creative expanses of bagel culture across America—because yes, you can find truly wonderful bagels outside of New York now.
I grew up in a Jewish family, in a stretch of New Jersey where there are a lot of Jewish families, and thus, I thank my lucky stars I was never far from a good bagel. What makes a good bagel is subjective. But after eating well over a thousand, my own criteria have become unbudgeable: A good bagel must be crusty and chewy. A good bagel must be inundated with seeds and those seeds should not fall off. And most important, when a good bagel is turned into a sandwich, thou shall not close it but leave it open-face as God intended.
I realize that lots of bagel shops do not follow this rule. But that’s changing. A new slate of places opening nationwide are making open-face bagel sandwiches and celebrating them too. At Poppy Bagels in Oakland, a lox beauty is piled high with briny capers, snipped chives, and a tuft of dill. And at Flour Moon Bagels in New Orleans, a carrot-tahini tartine is strewn with cucumber, onion, and olives. And I’m here for all of it.
The superior user experience of eating an open-face sandwich is undeniable. Though we live in an era where people love to go on camera and take big bites of big sandwiches and act like they enjoy it, I think we all know the truth: They do not. They are embarrassed. They might be in pain. The human jaw can only open so wide (usually 1.6–2.4 inches, about the width of three fingers), and by the time you sandwich a fluffy bagel with a smorgasbord of fixings, you have crossed the point of no return.
An open-face sandwich, on the other hand, is all reward: You optimize the bagel-to-toppings ratio and achieve inner peace. You get more cream cheese, more whitefish salad, more raw onion, more everything because you have twice the surface area to work with. If someone offered you an apartment with twice the square footage at the same price who are you to say no?
I understand why many bagel shops don’t agree. To assemble a closed sandwich, you need no more than a square of foil to bundle it up. An open-face sandwich on the other hand requires a box or container, which can be cumbersome and expensive. And if you try to throw that on an e-bike and deliver intact? Forget about it.