A New York Bagel From an Unexpected Borough: Connecticut

A long line for bagels in New York City isn’t a remarkable sight. It is, though, when the bagels come from Connecticut.

On a recent Sunday, dozens of New Yorkers crowded inside the Manhattan West location of Daily Provisions, eager to snag the bubbled, golden-hued wares of Popup Bagels, a bakery in Redding, Conn., that has been staging pop-ups around Manhattan since last year.

Is this the best new bagel in New York? It depends on what you like. While today’s New York bagels are often large, with a dense crumb and a distinct chew, Popup’s are smaller, airier and crisper. The texture is somewhat like that of a baguette.

Having something noteworthy to say about bagels in New York is a feat; the city is full of distinctive versions—from the plump, hand-rolled specimens at Ess-a-Bagel to the skinnier Montreal-style rounds at Black Seed Bagels.

But the owner of Popup Bagels, Adam Goldberg, thinks that there has been little recent innovation in New York bagels, and that the current crop of offerings isn’t up to past standards. “I think there is unlimited room for great bagel shops anywhere in any town in America, including in New York City,” he said.

After less than two years in business, Popup Bagels has a dedicated following in the city, some 60 miles from where the dough is made. At its pop-ups over the last year inside restaurants in Manhattan and the Hamptons, the bagels — which must be preordered — have sold out in as little as a minute. In October, they won the people’s-choice award at the Brooklyn BagelFest, beating better-known local bakeries like Tompkins Square Bagels.

“People typically think of New Yorkers as traditionalists that are set in their ways and frequent these institutions that have been around,” said Sam Silverman, the founder of Brooklyn BagelFest. “We are actually very open-minded.”

Mr. Goldberg, 47, doesn’t consider himself a bagel expert. He was one of many people who started baking bread during the pandemic to pass the time. One day in the summer of 2020, he and his cousin Jeff Lewis decided they were tired of sourdough bread, and wanted to try making something different. Why not bagels?

They looked up a few recipes online to get a sense of the ingredient ratios and technique, then came up with an idea for their dream bagel: compact, with a clearly defined crust and a generous coating of seeds.

New York Times Cooking: Learn how to make bagels with Claire Saffitz.

Mr. Goldberg initially gave the bagels to friends and relatives, and within a few months, enough people were offering to pay for them that he decided to start a business. (Mr. Lewis still occasionally helps make the bagels.)

Now, in addition to his New York pop-ups, Mr. Goldberg runs a subscription bagel business with three pickup locations in Connecticut: Redding, Westport and Greenwich. Bagels are sold by the dozen for $38, and come with creative flavors of cream cheese, like grilled leek and dill pickle. Although the business is profitable, he still works a full-time job selling flood-mitigation systems.

Last fall, with $250,000 from investors, Mr. Goldberg leased a test kitchen in downtown Redding. On the Sunday of a recent New York pop-up, the lights went on at 5 am, as he and three employees — Kaylynn Gunzy, a student at the Parsons School of Design, and two high school students, Amelia Shankle and Hannah Giardina — boiled and seeded 60 dozen plain, poppy seed, sesame, salt and everything bagels.

The previous afternoon, Mr. Goldberg had mixed close to 200 pounds of dough and proofed it twice. (He said the double proofing adds flavor and makes for a softer interior and more robust crust.) He then shaped the bagels and let them chill overnight.

“I see energy in this dough,” he said as he took a test batch out of the oven. “The hole is not too big. There’s life here.”

While traditional bagels are often boiled in a kettle and baked in a hearth, his are boiled in a large stockpot and baked in a convection oven. Not because he thinks this method makes for a better result — it’s just more convenient for a roving business that frequently relies on other people’s ovens, he said.

At 7 am, Mr. Goldberg drove the boiled-but-not-yet-baked bagels into the city in a refrigerated catering van. Customers order online and choose a 15-minute time slot; the bagels are baked about an hour before each slot, so they are still warm at pickup.

This was the third time Pallavi Nanda, had driven in from Jersey City for the bagels. “Once you eat these, you realize what you have missed,” she said.

Another fan is the New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose Union Square Hospitality Group owns Daily Provisions, and who invited Mr. Goldberg to stage the pop-up there. “I am not one to say anything is the best version I have ever had of it in my life,” Mr. Meyer said. “But he is definitely top three.”

Fellow bagel makers were not as enthusiastic. “Once you start to change it too much, it is not a bagel anymore, it is a bread,” said Melanie Frost, an owner of Ess-a-Bagel. That’s great for bread, but bagels? I don’t know.”

Still, she wished her new competitor luck: “Good for them. People love fads.”

Popup Bagels, 8 Main Street, Redding, Conn.; 971 Post Road East, Westport, Conn.; 158 East Putnam Avenue, Cos Cob, Conn. (Bagels must be reserved in advance.) For pop-up locations: popupbagels.com

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