“The bagel is an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis.”
— Beatrice and Ira Freeman —
What makes a bagel so damn good? Well, they’re chewy and they come with a story… Some say bagels symbolize the continuous cycle of life — without beginning and without end… Perhaps. Perhaps not… but they do have holes in them… Now, what does that mean?
The origin of the name is also ambiguous. Joan Nathan, the author of Jewish Cooking in America says the name comes from the German verb ‘biegen‘ — to bend. The late Alan Davidson wrote in his Oxford Companion to Food that ‘bagel‘ comes from the Yiddish word ‘beygel‘, which was taken from the German ‘beugel‘, meaning ring or bracelet. See? We’re going round and round on the topic… It’s all good.
Whatever the case may be (and there is probably some truth in all of it… there almost always is), when Austrian Jews immigrated to America, bringing the bagel with them, they probably never even dreamed that more than 100 years later a bagel bakery will be found on almost every street in New York.
Bagels and New York City are synonymous. In fact, it would be more accurate if Lady Liberty held a salmon and cream cheese bagel above her head instead of a flaming torch… but let’s not argue about it.
However, if you can’t find a bagel bakery in New York then the next best thing is Grey Dog — a neighbourhood coffeehouse, with locations in the West and East Village and Lower Manhattan.
What makes Grey Dog so great? Well, firstly, it comes with a story… This charming and homely family-owned coffeehouse was named after Moose and Goose, the owners, Pete and Dave’s two Labrador retrievers, one white the other black.
Then there’s the menu: The food is simple, honest and fresh ranging from Challah French Toast, a Hummus & Feta sandwich with sautéed spinach, tomato, & pepperoncini to a simple (yet delicious) Tuna Melt with cheddar, plum tomato & Bermuda onion… My personal favourite is their Philly Steak & Cheese Wrap. You can check out their menu here:
Pete and Dave also understands that in New York, for a lot of people breakfast start at 2pm, which is why they serve theirs until 3pm. Okay, so they don’t serve bagels, but they make up for it with their huge portions, surprisingly reasonable prices, friendly staff (in fact, they remembered me when I visited a second time… so I went back for a third) and the place has a cozy neighbourhood atmosphere. Oh yes, their coffee is great too… by European standards.
Grey Dog has definitely succeeded in creating a little precious gem in the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world. This is probably why you’ll find a long line of happy (and most likely regular) punters stretching out the door on a Sunday afternoon. Don’t let this put you off. It’s only proof that this is a fabulous spot worth standing in line for. The staff does an excellent job in crowd control and once you’ve placed your order at the counter (a clever way of getting to know your customers) your table will be waiting — reserved with a coloured bandana… another quirky New Yorkie touch.
So, if you really can’t find a bagel bakery in New York (and you’ll be lying if you say you can’t… or you are blind and lazy… but let’s rather stay friends), then go Grey Dog. It’s a happy place.
Grey Dog has locations on 242 West 16th Street, 90 University Place and 244 Mulberry Street. For more information, visit their website here:
Images: All Rights Reserved © Francois Lubbe
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes