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Bread, pizza & bagels: "it's the water" [moved from L.A. board]

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if they're made with LA water, it just ain't gonna be. Not to be snobby, but that's why NYC bagles, bread and pizza are what they are. Water.

[The Chowhound Team moved this subthread from a discussion about baguettes on the Los Angeles board. The orginal discussion is here:

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  1. Isn't the water business an urban myth? LA water's not so bad especially with filtration.

    1. The folks in Philly say that the Amoroso's rolls are what makes a cheesesteak great. I have to admit, I can't find a kaiser roll I like better than in Philly, and they say that's the water. I think it's more the yeast and technique that gives it its taste. A local bread place in Philly (Sarcones) once told me that they were using a yeast colony that had been sustained for many decades, and it was what gave their bread its flavor. I heard that boulangeries in France have had yeast colonies for hundreds of years.

      The best bagels I ever had were from a shop in Short HIlls, New Jersey called Bagels-4-U. They are the pinacle of bageldom for me. There was a shop in my neighborhood in Philly that had suspiciously good bagels, and as it turns out, the owner used to work at Bagels-4-U.

      As for the pizza, the best NY-Style pizza is in NY, but is that really the water, or is it the fact that it's NY-Style pizza and there's a great tradition of it, and lots of people who expect a certain taste in their pizza? I think NY pizza is about more than the crust.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Divamac

        I agree, it's the usually the yeast in the starter/mother dough that contributes the most to the outcome of the bread.

        1. re: Divamac

          We have limited bagels in CT. It's definitely the water. Even the best around here do not compare to the NY and NJ bagels :-(((

          Divamac, the next time your in SH try Bagel Chateau (downtown Millburn), blows Bagels4U away.

          1. re: jfood

            I used to live in Millburn and Summit (91-99) and don't remember Bagel Chateau, but then again, I was hooked on B4U. When I am back in the area, I always go out of my way for a good bagel. I'll put Bagel Chateau on my list! Thanks!

        2. It is the coal fired brick ovens that makes the difference. They are ancient and are unique to New York as far as I know. There are none in LA. One thing is for sure, New York has some of the best pizza and some of the worst pizza that I have ever eaten...Bagels too. One bagel place by the Letterman Theater had the best ever and a block away, I took one bite and threw it away...just like Sara Lee, yech. I filled by suit case full of dozens of the good bagels just before we left for the airport. It's the ovens, the sourdough starter, the flour, the water all combined.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Just Larry

            Its not the ovens. Very few pizzerias have brick ovens in NY. You cannot build a new coal fired oven and the only pizzerias that have them have been grandfathered in.

            1. re: ESNY

              Coal-oven pizza is very different from what most people in the United States (including most resident of the Tri-State Area) consider "NY-style pizza." Even though it's technically the original, I think most people think floppy crust you can fold in half, pretty oily, tomato sauce (not margherita style) and lots of cheese.

          2. Speaking of water, there was an interesting article in the NYTimes a while back about the quality of espresso in NYC.

            Title: "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; New York's Best Espresso?"

            By WILLIAM GRIMES (NYT) 1996 words
            Published: May 15, 2002

            Grimes asks why you cannot get great espresso in NYC. Among other explanations, he writes:

            "Last but not least is New York water. It wins contests for purity and flavor. It makes for great pizza dough and bagels. But it might not be ideal for espresso. This is a matter of some controversy, but Roy Forster, who is in charge of quality assurance for Illy coffee, insists that the local water is deficient in calcium, which adds body to espresso."

            Forster then praises the water in LA and Arizona.

            1. It is not the water, it's the people.
              I grew up near NYC and now live in Florida. I've found two pizza places down here, in Melbourne and Daytona, that rival any up North -- because they're owned and completely run by transplanted NYers.
              As for the bagels, one must master the boiling/baking technique, and voila! That's why I've found the best bagels in Jersey (Broadway Hot Bagels, Bayonne, Bway btw 25th and 26th) -- which obviously doesn't have the same water in NYC!

              6 Replies
              1. re: Covert Ops

                I second that emotion. If I had a dollar for every time some transplanted New Yorker said you can't make good bagels or NY-style pizzas in Florida because of the water, I could retire.

                I know a place in Hallandale, the Sage, a mere 20 minutes north of Miami and five minutes from the beach, that makes very good bagels: dense, chewy and yeasty with the requisite mottled, shiny crust. Not up there with my New York favorites at the Bagel Hole in Brooklyn, but they'd do just fine in any neighborhood in or around the city.

                Just up the street in Hollywood, which admittedly has good city water, a place called Mauro's Pizza turns out convincing New York slices, one of several places in the area that does so.

                And more to the point, another 15 minutes up the road is a coal-oven pizza place called Anthony's that works in the Patsy's/Lombardi's style. I prefer my sauce to be a bit zingier, but we're talking about crust and most days they nail the crust. They're in Fort Lauderdale, which has some of the brownest tap water you'll ever see.

                1. re: hatless

                  Thank you!
                  I've lived in several different areas of Florida since leaving Jersey, and it's an interesting sociological experiment to figure out from the food where the snowbirds came from.

                  For example: Miami has terrific Cuban, bagels and Chinese, due to large New York and Jewish influence. But just two hours up the road in Martin County, there's nary a decent bagel shop to be found. (Lots of native Florida crackers up there.) Hit Brevard and the big NY influence is back again, but in Daytona most of the transplants are from Pittsburgh and Ohio, so the quality of wings and burgers pick up while other things slide. (The Chinese is absolutely deplorable.)

                2. re: Covert Ops

                  >>It is not the water, it's the people.

                  THANK YOU! As a long-time L.A resident, I'm SOO sick of ex-New Yorkers whining about the absence of "decent" bagels and pizza out here. I've always wanted to ask them why, if they think this is such a big problem, they don't follow the cue of their Asian and Latin-American immigrant neighbors and open their own restaurants and food shops with products geared to their own tastes and expectations.

                  If a bunch of English-challenged, homesick people from Hong Kong or Oaxaca can manage to open restaurants, import master cooks and special ingredients from the homeland, AND make a profit serving uncompromisingly authentic food just as good as it was back home, goodness knows our large and affluent expat New Yorker community can do the same. There's certainly an audience for it. Who knows, in some far superior parallel universe, maybe Brentwood and Beverly Hills are to New York pizza what Monterey Park is to dim sum.

                  But running a restaurant is grueling, financially risky work, and I suspect most of our ex-New Yorkers would rather stick to writing screenplays and doing tummy tucks than spend their weekends cleaning grease traps and dealing with health inspectors.

                  The water is just an excuse. The real reason we don't have authentic New York pizza out here? New Yorkers just don't want it badly enough to make it happen.

                  1. re: Piglet

                    Amen, brother. Saying "it's the water" is like blaming your golf clubs for a lousy swing.

                    As both a New York native and long time Californian, everything you say rings true. I lowered my expectations about California bagels and pizza years ago and learned to make my own, exactly to my tastes and expectations.

                    Bagel results, with photo, on my blog:

                    1. re: Professor Salt

                      Holy crap, pur'fessor! I haven't seen a bagel like that since my last visit to Tal on 86th! Well done...

                      P.S. Where did you end up going for the big bags of hi-glute? If you're looking for an alternative source, check out Smart & Final's "Cash & Carry" stores. There's one in my neck of the woods, and it's outstanding for bulk purchases. BUT, it is only open to the trade, so you'll need to show a business license or FEIN...



                      1. re: Professor Salt

                        Oh. My. God.

                        That's it! He's done it!

                        Now all you have to do is open your own shop in the OC and all those NY transplants will stop complaining!! :-D

                  2. You think that looks good, you oughta see the good Professor's barbequed ribs!

                    It truly is not the water, the raw ingredients, the local environment, the equipment, or any other specific tangibles, it is the genius of the diverse human individuals who conceive of and put the whole package together, no matter what the dish.

                    1. If it's the water, then if you use good filtration or "purified" water, you'll get the same result? What if you er..um...imported New York water? Could it then be as good?

                      Personally, I think it's history, location and people. I've had plenty a fine burger living here on the East Coast, but they'll never taste as good as they do in L.A.

                      1. Horsecrap. It's not the water at all. It's that certain foods get an "air" to them when eaten in their native surroundings. Thus, pizza (even slightly crappy pizza) tastes better in New York than in LA; sushi tastes better in LA than in New York. The same cheesesteak, made on the same Amoroso's roll, tastes better in Philadelphia because you're in the place where such things are celebrated, rather than indulging in your nostalgia in LA.

                        The identical tapas will taste better in Barcelona than in Paris; pastis tastes different when taken from sunny Marseille to foggy London; baguettes are better from French bakers in Paris than from French bakers in Prague. I never drink Tecate except in SoCal and Baja -- it doesn't taste right in Seattle.

                        I have found bagels in LA (OK, in Santa Monica) that were just as good as at home in NJ, because they're made with the same recipe and the same water and the same people who used to own a bagel shop in my hometown. They don't taste as good, because subconsciously, bagels are a New York and New Jersey thing.

                        It's the experience. There simply isn't the New York bagel or pizza experience, thus the pizza isn't "as good".

                        I also agree with Piglet -- if it were so important to transplanted New Yorkers to have their pizza and bagels here, it would happen, thanks to the wonder of interstate commerce and shipping. You could even get the water. I suspect that the reason there's no "decent" pizza or bagels to New Yorkers is so that they'll have something to complain about.

                        1. There is something to the water theory, but it's not all that. I lived in Bozeman, MT for a while and they had great bagels without modifying the water as far as I know. The owners were from NJ.

                          Pizza may be different. The pizza in this region is lousy as a rule. For a few years there was a guy from NY who made excellent pizza. He modified the water to be as close as possible to the water at his cousin's pizza place in Long Island. He also "imported" semolina from the east coast. Whatever he was doing seemed to work, unfortunately his wife hated Montana and he left.

                          Years ago I was talking with the owner of John's of Bleecker street, he told me they picked the location of a satellite in FL based on the water.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: saeyedoc

                            But what I don't get, is whose water is it supposed to be? Water quality is set at the municipal level -- Long Island may as well be across the country from Manhattan, as far as the water being related. Same with Jersey -- there are hundreds of pizza places in Jersey that serve fantastic NY-style pizza, in all types of towns with wildly varying degrees of water quality.

                            I live in Florida, and I can say the same for the water there -- wildly unpredictable.

                            So that's why I don't really buy the water theory. I think New Yorkers like to say that, because they like to say New York is the best for everything, but in practice the theory just doesn't wash.

                            (Semolina, though, would make a big difference.)