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Utopia Bagels...is there any better?

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Chris Dec 8, 2004 12:53 PM

Has anyone who has actually been to Utopia Bagels (in Whitestone) been able to find a better bagel anywhere in the world? I recently spent some time in the city trying bagel places and have no idea how any NYCers are putting up with Manhattan's current offerings...or perhaps I've missed a hidden gem. H&H in particular was pretty terrible as far as classic NY bagels go, or at least my idea of them.

I understand that lots of people have different opinions on what makes the perfect bagel, but I'm interested only in the classic variety - hand-rolled, boiled/baked, crusty-outside, chewy-inside, and not sweet-tasting.

So, any challengers to Utopia? I'd love to know if anything even comes close. I'm living in northern Jersey now, and bagels (and lots of other foods) are pretty bad - dying for another Utopia run.

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  1. m
    mjr_inthegardens Dec 8, 2004 02:13 PM

    Bagel Hole, 7th St in Park Slope.

    -MJR

    3 Replies
    1. re: mjr_inthegardens
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      Erica Marcus Dec 8, 2004 02:35 PM

      7th AVENUE and 12th Street.
      I concur: best bagels around.

      1. re: Erica Marcus
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        Chris Dec 8, 2004 02:40 PM

        I've heard about Bagel Hole, and I'm getting more intrigued to try it. How do the bagels compare to Utopia? What are the differences?

        1. re: Erica Marcus
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          mjr_inthegardens Dec 8, 2004 03:27 PM

          DOH! sorry about the address snafu

          clearly I need a return trip!

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        stuartlafonda Dec 8, 2004 03:16 PM

        We have gone down this road before, but I fail to see the greatness of this place. I grew up 2 blocks away and I am in the area regularly. It is a fine bagel store but not that different then a million other places. Bagel Hut on Middleneck Road in Great Neck and Oasis Bagels on the service road of the LIE (southside, east bound, exit at Utiopia parkway) are just as good or better. I always ask for my bagels well done and I like them small, crispy outside and chewy.

        1. s
          Spock's Brain Dec 8, 2004 05:58 PM

          I fully agree with you Chris. I lived in Manhattan for 10 years and now live in Forest Hills. I drive over to Utopia at least twice a month for their bagels.

          As far as I'm concerned they are the best around (almost as good as the Bagels on Garth road in Scarsdale).

          1. b
            brian maryansky Dec 8, 2004 08:56 PM

            bagel world

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              Suzanne Dec 9, 2004 10:47 AM

              I have never tried Utopia bagels, but I've tried many that have been touted as the "best in nyc." I've never been impressed. I think the problem with all the bagels you get now is the size. Around the time the they broke the bagel bakers union, and bagel bakeries began to proliferate everywhere, they started to make them bigger, presumably so they could charge more for them. The problem is that by supersizing them, it altered the ratio of crispy crust to doughy inside. The normal size bagel you get now sits like a bag of cement in my stomach. I have to toast it, which I would have considered a sacriledge years ago. My bagels of choice, right now, are the mini-bagels from Gotta Getta Bagel in Forest Hills. Not fantastic, but acceptable by my standards, and convenient for me. When I am motivated, like say if I'm having brunch guests, I bake my own.

              17 Replies
              1. re: Suzanne
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                Elaine(Snutteplutten) Dec 9, 2004 11:07 AM

                When did that happen (the breaking of the union)? I've always thought that I have never had bagels as good as those my grandfather bought on Union Turnpike (can't remember the name) in the early and mid 70s, but I thought that was most likely attributable to the tricks childhood memory plays on us. But maybe it's true....

                1. re: Elaine(Snutteplutten)
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                  Suzanne Dec 9, 2004 11:57 AM

                  I don't know exactly when the union was broken, probably in the 1970's. When I was a kid, you got "good" bagels from the appetizing store which were only delivered at certain times. My mother always explaing the unavailability of bagels by saying that the union only let them do this or that. In those days, you could also get bagels from bakeries, but they were lousy. My mother explained that by saying that only union bagel bakers know the secret to good bagels. In the sixties or seventies, some idiot invented a bagel machine. I guess that was the demise of the union. Bagel bakeries started opening everywhere, and you didn't need any special skill to make them. Somehow now even the supposedly hand rolled bagels aren't the same. I attribute it to size. When I make my own I use a recipe from "The New New York Times Cookbook," (not very new anymore). They usually come out looking somewhat malformed, but they have the old fashioned taste.

                  1. re: Suzanne
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                    Chris Dec 9, 2004 12:07 PM

                    I appreciate the response and interesting union info. Utopia's bagels are definitely not small, and probably bigger than what you're looking for, but the size doesn't bother me a bit. They're hand-rolled and delicious - wouldn't dream of toasting a fresh one.

                    As for good home recipes, I like the one in Julia's baking book. Small, crusty, and classic.

                    1. re: Chris
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                      josh L Dec 9, 2004 04:05 PM

                      sounds a bit like ess-a-bagel.

                      1. re: Chris
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                        Suzanne Dec 10, 2004 03:34 PM

                        I happened to have an appointment in Whitestone today, so I made a little detour to try my first Utopia bagel. I had a full size one there, with cream cheese and coffee, and took home a dozen minis. The texture was definitely above average--crisp crunchy on the outside, and light but chewy on the inside, but I still thought it suffered from being oversized. Later on in the afternoon I tried a mini, and thought it was very good. My only remaining reservation is that I have another standard that I judge bagels by--I like them to be free of preservatives. Preservatives add a slight rubberiness (to all breads--not just bagels). I don't think Utopia passed that test, but I will know for sure tomorrow. An old fashioned bagel, if left overnight, turns rock hard and inedible by the following morning. I'll know tomorrow.

                        1. re: Suzanne
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                          Chris Dec 10, 2004 03:53 PM

                          I love this discussion... and excited to hear of your foray into Utopia. From what you said about your bagel tastes, I'm not surprised you found it a bit too large, but it sounds like we can at least agree on the good taste and chewiness. It's an interesting thought on the preservatives - I've never thought about it, and can't honestly say that I know whether or not they use any. I find the day-old bagels to be good only for toasting, but I don't ever leave them unwrapped, so I will eagerly await the results of your overnight test.

                          1. re: Chris
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                            Suzanne Dec 11, 2004 08:39 AM

                            My Utopian bagels were pretty darn good this morning (toasted), a bad sign. When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, timing was everything when buying bagels. If you bought them the day before you were going to use them, fuggetaboutit. The difference between non-preservative (maybe they call it dough texturizers or enhancers--I don't know the science of it) is subtle, yet significant.

                            I've had the same problem with my favorite artisinal bread. About 15 yeard ago, a passionate bread nut opened a bakery near my summer home. He brought over a French bread oven builder to build the perfect oven, and made a big deal over his organic flour, which he also sold. His baguettes and pan levain were to die for. The only problem was that if you didn't use them or freeze them almost immediately, they either turned to rocks, got moldy, or both. His business was a tremendous sucess. He started selling to stores, restaurants, and opened several satelite bakery/cafes. Somewhere along the line during this period of expansion he change from the original flour he used to something that keeps for a few days. Now I can bring it back from the country and use it in Queens, but I don't bother. Its good, but nothing special.

                            1. re: Suzanne
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                              Chris Dec 11, 2004 11:56 AM

                              Oh well...on the preservatives. I can appreciate the goal of real old-time bagels, but my bagel money will continue to go to Utopia until I find something better.

                              Your country bakery story is interesting - it could almost be the exact story of a bakery near my family's summer home. About 5 hours north of here, there's a young guy baking rustic, artisanal breads in a French clay oven. Definitely no preservatives here...he mills his own flour from local organic wheat and I can personally vouch for having rock-hard day-old bread good for nothing but breadcrumbs. They used to have a web site, but looks like it's gone. Here are a couple of articles I found:

                              http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=273406&category=STATEFARE&BCCode=&newsdate=11/26/2004&tacodalogin=no
                              http://www.hwfc.com/CoopScoop/Dec01/s...

                              Take it easy, see you on another thread.

                              1. re: Chris
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                                Suzanne Dec 11, 2004 02:02 PM

                                Don't get me wrong. I thought Utopia bagels were as good as I've had for a pretty long time. I know that the bagels of my youth are history.

                                I read the articles. Your upstate bread guy sounds like just the way my guy started. I wish your guy success--just not too much.

                                1. re: Suzanne
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                                  josh L Dec 13, 2004 01:34 PM

                                  go to the bagel hole in park slope!!

                    2. re: Elaine(Snutteplutten)
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                      stuartlafonda Dec 9, 2004 02:33 PM

                      Ed Levine did a feature article in the Times food section about bagels in New York within the last year. He touted spots all over the city and told the story of the bagel union and it's demise. A check of the Times archives will yield the story.

                      1. re: stuartlafonda
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                        josh L Dec 9, 2004 04:04 PM

                        That was a flawed article. Levine correctly condemned bagel shops that produced giant size bagels made mostly for turkey sandwiches- than later heaped praise on Terrace Bagels in Windsor Terrace, who makes exactly that- a giant puffy bagel ideal for a lousy Boars Head sandwich. He didn't even mention the Bagel Hole. What's wrong with that guy?

                        1. re: josh L
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                          stuartlafonda Dec 10, 2004 08:44 AM

                          While I don't disagree with you, I thought it was a good source of info on the "bagel union" topic, something I never seen mentioned before or since

                    3. re: Suzanne
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                      Chris E. Dec 9, 2004 12:23 PM

                      The bagels at Bagel Hole on 7th Ave. in the South Slope, which other posters on this thread recommended, are smallish, so if you're turned off by the usual throw-pillow-sized ones it's a good bet.

                      1. re: Chris E.
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                        Suzanne Dec 9, 2004 12:47 PM

                        A little out of my usual stomping ground, but thanks for the tip.

                        1. re: Chris E.
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                          josh L Dec 9, 2004 03:57 PM

                          Its not just that they are small- a bagel can be small and still doughy. The Bagel Hole produces a product that is chewey, without being doughy- they have the formula down.

                        2. re: Suzanne
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                          billyblancoNYC Dec 9, 2004 02:50 PM

                          Utopia does, in fact, kick ass. I also like the bagels in a place on Union Tpke in Jamaica Estates. I forget the name, but it's by King Yum and is the one ON the Tpke. (there's on up the block but right off Union, never been). Also, Bagel Oasis and Bagels & Co. on 188th and Union.

                        3. b
                          Brian W Dec 9, 2004 04:40 PM

                          I've told this story before, but here goes. I lived in Whitestone until ten years ago and always bought bagels at Utopia. On Sunday mornings I worked the NFL Pregame show at a network and had to be in before 9am. At 8 I would pick up two dozen assorted bagels at Utopia, take the plastic outer bag off the paper inner bag (otherwise they get spongy), and get them into work still hot. Those bagels were legendary! I had coworkers, many Jewish, from all over the Metropolitan area and they all thought these were the best bagels around.

                          There was a bagel place in Bayside on the Clearview Expressway that some raved about, and the place along side the LIE off Utopia, but none could match up to Utopia Bagels.

                          If they still make the bagel twists (they throw a free one in with a dozen bagels) try them. Pure heaven! And since they are "low altitude" they may appeal to those who just can't stand a bigger bagel. But I don't consider Utopia's Bagels to be puffy. I always found them to be chewy and not like those huge things from H&H. But that was ten years ago.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Brian W
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                            Chris Dec 9, 2004 04:46 PM

                            Thx for the story. I grew up in Whitestone, and the bagels seem exactly the same to me now as they did 10+ years ago - that is to say, awesome. I agree that they're quite chewy and not at all puffy, but I wouldn't consider them small which seems to be one measuring stick for alot of folks' tastes.

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