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It Might be Minutiae
I was not aware, until recently, that the bagel's formal roots in New York occurred some time between 1910 to 1915. Legend has it that the beginnings of bagel baking originated in 1683 in Vienna, Austria, when a local Jewish baker, as a thank you, created a special, hard roll for the King of Poland for protecting his countrymen from Turkish invaders. He designed the roll in the shape of a riding stirrup to commemorate the king's favorite pastime, giving the bagel it's distinctive shape.
One Montreal bakery that has been around since 1919, ownership handed down from generation to generation, has remained a family owned business. Originally, the only bagel was poppy-seed, at least in this particular bakery. One regular Jewish customer with dentures asked the owner if he could create a bagel with only sesame seeds as the poppy seeds became trapped beneath his dentures, causing pain. The proprietor obliged and thus was born the sesame seed bagel.
From these humble beginnings, a bagel war exists, between the primary players, New York and Montreal, each purporting propriety of the "best" bagel. The war wages on.
A Bagel is not a bagel is a bagel
The Bagel wars go on
New York Bagels...it's all in the water
Today, the choices are as abundant as the customers. Here in my local St. Louis, Missouri neighborhood, there are many Panera Bread Company franchise restaurants to cater to the taste buds of the masses. From the humble "plain" bagel to the pungent onion bagel and everything in-between, blueberry, cranberry, chocolate chip, asiago cheese, cinnamon, french toast, rye, and even the "bozo", a Montreal concept for the hungry masses, exist to tempt and satiate bagel aficionados all.
The bagel bakeries offer reasonable prices for their tasty confections and as a result entice a substantial early morning crowd on their way to work. Similarly, the Panera Bread franchise offers a menu suitable for lunch and dinner with bagel encased tuna salad, roast beef, turkey clubs, even a vegetarian sandwich, that can be accompanied with salads, soups and dessert. Each lunch or dinner is accompanied with a personal choice of either a bag of baked chips or an apple. They carry a delicious assortment of bakery items, ranging from cookies, brownies, and danishes, with something to satisfy every craving.
A few select Panera Bread Company franchises have developed a concept to help offset the economic fall of many customers. These specific locations offer a "pay what you can" policy. The restaurants participating in this concept are reporting their profits remain the same as prior to this innovative policy, with still employed customers voluntarily paying more to offset loses. The customers that pay less are offered the voluntary option to help the restaurant by cleaning tables, windows and the doors. The only casualties appear to be less business for their neighbors, who have now begun a campaign to win back business through the use of coupons to lighten customer costs in their establishments.
In addition, Panera Bread, supports helping the local homeless community by passing the daily, leftover bagels out to those that are hungry in lieu of throwing food away, thus creating a win/win for everyone.
My beef with bagels
Provided I visit the Panera establishment in my neighborhood early, the bagels are fresh. However, purchases at noon or thereafter can reflect the fact that the bagels are stored within eyesight in open bins, thus compromising that "just out of the oven" freshness I so desire.
The personnel offers halving the bagels for free, but I have found this quickly results in a dried out product if it sits any longer than an hour. I usually fore-go the convenience of an already sliced bagel for this reason.
Another "beef" I have concerns the packaging upon purchase of bagels and pastries. I do not like the asiago cheese bagels, nor the onion bagels. However, upon occasion I would take a dozen into work for the crew. The pungency of the onion and asiago bagels permeated the content of everything in the box, giving every other selection the distinctive hint of onion and asiago. A suggestion would be to ask the friendly, obliging personnel to please bag the cheese and/or onion bagels separately. Ditto with the deliciously, gooey pastry confections.
On a personal note
My favorite bagel is the sesame seed bagel. The crunchy texture of the sesame seeds, when sinking your teeth into the soft consistency of a fresh bagel, combines to creates a sensational, near orgasmic explosion of tactile delight; something to be savored often. The only downside is the teeth factor. Although the sesame seed bagel was designed as a culinary option to alleviate the discomfort associated with the original poppy seed bagel for a customer who had dentures, I don't see much improvement in the substitution. I have my own teeth, but it is not a pretty sight after enjoying my favorite bagel. The "stuck" poppy seeds are more apparent, but each equally creates the occasion for a dental fest after consumption. This issue only give me "pause" in my decision to indulge, however.
My decision to enjoy a sesame seed bagel last night did not go unnoticed by my roommate, Scottish Terrier, MacGregor. After all, preparing and sharing meals is a societal, cultural ritual intended to be a pleasurable, loving experience. So, in that spirit, I shared my bagel with my canine companion, despite the fact he is bereft of any rules of etiquette.
This morning as I began my day, I noticed the trail of sesame seeds dotting the beautiful, dark, hardwood floors in my apartment. Between the two of us, that one sesame seed treat created a half-hour of cleanup time. It was worth every minute. And so it goes...