New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York BagelFest taught me I was doing bagels wrong

Not only are you allowed to put chili-garlic crunch on your bagels, you absolutely need to.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia
Olmo won the first place “Best of the Fest” award. O’Bagel won second place and Wheated won third place. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

While heading to class in the morning, there’s a fair chance you make a stop for a cup of coffee and a New York classic, a bagel. Whether you get everything, asiago, sesame or — for some god-forsaken reason — cinnamon raisin, the bagel is a morning staple for busy routines.

However, for the small businesses at the fourth annual New York BagelFest in Chelsea’s Starrett-Lehigh building, bagels were more than that — they were an art form. Held on Oct. 20 and 21, the festival featured some of the best local, national and international bagel shops that each offered unique combinations of sandwiches, schmears, lox and more. I didn’t know that bagels could come in so many different flavors and textures — or that every state had their own idea of what the ideal bagel should be — but BagelFest was a humbling experience for the culinary snob in me.

“It’s all about the texture, the chewiness, for me,” said Scott Goodfriend, the Chief Eating Officer of Ultimate Food Tours, who walked around wearing a “Bagel Expert” sash and was one of the judges for the festival. According to him, the go-to bagel order is a cinnamon raisin bagel with jalapeño — yes, you read that right — cream cheese.

Scott Goodfriend, the Chief Eating Officer at Ultimate Food Tours, wearing a green hoodie and “Bagel Expert” sash writing with a pen on a score sheet listing all the vendors.
One of the appointed Bagel Experts rates the bagels at New York BagelFest. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

As we walked around the convention center, we were handed tokens that allowed us to vote for our top three bagels. My favorite, by far, was Wheated, a Brooklyn-based sourdough pizza shop that serves bagels on the weekends. Their burnt scallion cream cheese with chili-garlic crunch on top was revolutionary. I didn’t realize seasoning blends other than everything-but-the-bagel could work so well, but the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the chill of cream cheese balanced out the spicy and crunchy topping.

A man in a red baseball hat wearing a black shirt and white apron with white gloves handing out samples.
Wheated serves sourdough bagels at the fourth annual New York BagelFest in 2023. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

A close runner-up for me was Olmo, a Connecticut-based bagel company. Their everything bagel topped with a yuzu kosho cream cheese was spicy and flavorful, but the yuzu added a citrusy kick — a flavor I was not expecting to enjoy in a bagel. Connecticut is a bit far, but the yuzu kosho had me running to make my own — admittedly subpar — knockoff with some Sriracha and lemon juice.

A man in a black hat and blue shirt from Olmo standing on the left. Another man in a white-and-gray hat, blue shirt and gray apron, also from Olmo, serving bite-sized everything bagels filled with Yuzu Kosho cream cheese.
Olmo, a New Haven-based company, presents their special Yuzu Kosho cream cheese. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

There were also several brightly dyed bagels and some sweet standouts, like the cheesecake cream cheese from the Brooklyn-based bagel shop The Bad Bagel, which was black-and-white and looked like an optical illusion. O’Bagel, a New Jersey-based shop, was also unique with their Parmesan and sun-dried tomato bagel bites which had cream cheese filled inside, kind of like a jelly donut hole.

A man wearing a black hat and black shirt with purple accents stands behind a display table.
The Bad Bagels serves both pastrami and chopped cheese bagels at the 4th Annual New York BagelFest in 2023. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)
A man, from O’Bagel, in a black hat, shirt and green apron pointing at their parmesan and sun-dried tomato bagel bites filled with cream cheese.
O’Bagel, a Hoboken-based company, presents their parmesan and sun-dried tomato bagels filled with cream cheese. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

“Being a New Yorker, I had my bagel shop growing up that I would go to and it’s just so awesome to see all the different ways people make their own bagels, not only around the city, but around the country and even internationally,” said Eric Feldman, who was there with his wife Jenn and infant daughter Madison. While Jenn’s go-to order was a bagel with the works — lox, cream cheese and all — Eric preferred a sesame bagel with cream cheese. Madison had her very first bagel at the festival.

A baby named Madison in a red hoodie eating a bagel in a gray car seat.
Baby Madison tried her first bagel at New York BagelFest. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

The day ended with the “Best of the Fest” awards, which handed out medals and trophies to the top three bagel shops in several categories. Unfortunately for New York, Olmo from New Haven, Connecticut, won the “Best of the Fest” prize, with O’Bagel placing second and Wheated placing third. The “Best Bagel” award — which was for the best plain bagel based on a blind taste test by judges — went to Starship Bagel from Texas, followed by Bagel Market with multiple locations throughout NYC and Jeff’s Bagel Run all the way from Florida. Wheated also won the prize for “Best of the Boroughs,” followed by The Bad Bagel and Utopia Bagels from Queens.

A man in a blue shirt and white hat from Olmo holding a bagel award for “Best of the Fest” and is hugging another man.
New Haven-based shop Olmo was declared the “Best of the Fest” at the 2023 BagelFest. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)
Two women with black shirts hugging. On the right, a man from Starship Bagel, with a black shirt, blue jacket and hat holding a bagel shaped award for “Best Bagel.” He also has three bagel-shaped medals with an orange ribbon around his neck.
Texas-based Starship Bagel walked away from the 2023 New York BagelFest with awards in multiple categories and the coveted “Best Bagel” award. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Sam Silverman, the founder of BagelFest, started the event six years ago and has hosted four annual BagelFests since then. His go-to bagel order is an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese — notably not toasted. According to Silverman, you never toast a fresh bagel.

“One day, I want this to be not 2,000 people, but 10,000 people — hundreds of vendors,” he said. “We had a bagel-rolling competition yesterday, and it was electric. So that is going to be the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest of the bagel world.”

Regardless of whether you decide to attend the next annual BagelFest, I highly recommend getting at least a little more creative with your bagels. If the festival taught me anything, it’s that flavors and textures of all kinds — not just plain cream cheese or butter — belong on a bagel, and soon you might end up with your own unique go-to order. Sorry, though, Sam — I’m still going to keep toasting mine.

Contact Naisha Roy at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Naisha Roy
Naisha Roy, Editor-at-Large
Naisha Roy is a second-year studying journalism and Spanish & Linguistics. She loves covering topics like immigration issues and NYU policies. In her free time, she's probably doing the daily crossword or cooking while listening to Taylor Swift. She loves spending her weekends finding cheap food spots around the city with her four best friends. You can reach out to her on Instagram @naisharoy9 if you ever need to rant about how AP Style doesn't use the Oxford Comma.
Jason Alpert-Wisnia
Jason Alpert-Wisnia, Editor-at-Large
Jason Alpert-Wisnia is a junior majoring in Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts, primarily focused on photojournalism and documentary photography. His photography ranges from coverage of professional sports, to political protests and music festivals. When he is not pounding the pavement with a camera in his hands looking for the next story, you are likely to find Jason in a used bookstore looking for rare finds or in the park reading. You can find him on Instagram @jasonalpertwisnia and contact him at [email protected].

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