Bagel Showdown: New York vs. Montreal


This is a tale of two cities, each with a venerable Jewish culinary legacy that claims boasting rights to the world’s best bagel. Until now, these parallel universes have existed at a safe distance. But Mile End – a new Quebecois-style restaurant opening next month in Brooklyn - will bring the long-standing New York/Montreal bagel standoff to a head. In preparation, I consulted the experts about which “roll with a hole” steals their hearts, and their stomachs.

Read what they said below – and for more on Mile End, check out my article in Edible Brooklyn.

“Smoked salmon tastes good with everything, but a real, old-fashioned New York bagel is lox’s ideal match. Our bagels are water hand-rolled and boiled before they’re baked so they’re crispy on the surface and chewy inside – the definition of a perfect bagel.
- Herman Vargas, Manager 29 years at Russ & Daughters in NYC

“…no city, perhaps in the history of the world, is so closely identified with a breadstuff as New York is with the bagel. Whether eaten plain or with a “schmear” of cream cheese, with whitefish salad or a slice of Nova, with sesame seeds or salt, toasted or untoasted, by Jew, gentile, Muslim, Buddhist or agnostic, the bagel has, for more than a century, helped define breakfast in New York.”
- Ed Levine writing in The New York Times Dec 31, 2003

“New York may have many gastronomic wonders, but in the bagel department, it’s challenged. New Yorkers who consider those giant, fluffy hockey pucks manna from heaven haven’t tried a warm, thinly-rolled, sesame-crusted (and not merely dusted), sweet Montreal bagel.”
- Lara Rabinovitch, editor of CuiZine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures

“The “everything bagel” seems to me the quintessence of New York bagel hubris – about as tasteful as Wonder Bread. Not so the delicate and subtly sweet Montreal bagel, which comes in only two varieties: sesame and poppy seeds (the taste derives from the dough; no need for fancy toppings). As my Zayde once explained to me, the Montreal bagel is better because it’s made with more love, sweetness and patience than New Yorkers have to spare.”
- Professor Alan Nadler, Harvard University


“I happen to be a New York snob and generally assume everything is better here, but that’s not what I’ve found with the bagel. The New York bagel of my childhood was wonderful – sweet and chewy – but it’s rare to find one like that anymore. Montreal captures the taste of the bagels I remember.”
- Sharon Lebewohl, co-owner of 2nd Avenue Deli

Bagel photo credit: Epicurean Life

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12 Responses to “Bagel Showdown: New York vs. Montreal”

  1. Lawrence Says:

    I’m not sure Lebewohl’s response *is* a tie-breaker. As I read it, she prefers the New York style but is upset that she can’t find a good one these days.

  2. Julie Steinberg Says:

    What a riot! I do agree that the everything bagel is over the top, but in general enjoy the NY bagel over the Montreal. Although I am going to make a trip to Brooklyn just to reacquaint myself.

  3. Hannah Says:

    Just LOOK at those two bagels! One is kind of doughy, uniform, and blah looking, while the other is beautifully textured and imperfect and actually looks handmade. I am curious to know how Mile End does, because many have tried to replicate the Montreal bagel outside Montreal and failed. The Montreal bagel is a delicate and beautiful thing.

  4. montreal maidele Says:

    You can’t replicate the Montreal bagel outside of Montreal. That’s one of its mysteries. Truth be told they cannot be made in a home kitchen, because they need to be baked on a wooden plank inserted into a seasoned brick fire oven. The New York bagel, however, can be had anywhere on Earth, and be made anywhere.

    Game, set, MATCH!

  5. deva Says:

    well i live in florida and would be pleased to have either of these bagels.

  6. BITCHCUNT Says:



  7. Matt Says:

    Actually if you knew what you were talking about you would know that a NY bagel can no be made outside of NY. You would also know that the reason for this is the same reason you can’t make a Montreal bagel outside of Montreal. You obviously don’t know the secret of why this is, but think pizza. Which you have a about as horrible of a chance getting a decent slice of in Canada as you would finding a decent bagel.

  8. Bob Says:

    I have been a bagel maker for a very long time and I’m honesty disappointed to see the these Canadian bagels along side the classic NY bagel. NY and bagels are synonymous, and you aren’t going to find a more authentic bagel anywhere. Montreal has good bagels, as do many other places. But make no mistake, they do not belong on the same tier as a properly made traditional NY bagel. They are in essence an imitation. And for what they are (imitations), quite poor ones. What I’m seeing here is quite offensive to a true baker such as myself.

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