So You Think You Can Bagel?

In a cosmopolitan city like Toronto where the citizens are generally well-traveled and everybody has an opinion, few things trigger such healthy debate as the question of where to get a good bagel. For many Jews, a Sunday morning bagel with lox and cream cheese has become a weekly tradition and one that is deadly serious. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to visit one of the many neighborhood bagel shops in the Greater Toronto Area on a Sunday morning. In no time at all you will realize that you’re taking your life in your hands. The lineups are out the door (even in the dead of winter) and you can expect that you’ll get elbowed in the side, screamed at in your ear, and possibly spit on — by the servers as often as the patrons of the hottest places. This isn’t unique to Toronto either.

Many cities take a proprietary pride in their bagels. Try to talk to any New Yorker about bagels and they’ll quickly tell you there’s no better place to get a bagel than Manhattan. When I lived in Los Angeles, rumor had it that on Sunday mornings the Cedars Sinai Hospital emergency room would routinely open their doors to an influx of bagel-cutting injuries. Personally, I was astonished by the fact that in a city like L.A. with almost 13 million people, there wasn’t anywhere to get a first-class bagel. Maybe that’s why the celebrities are so thin. For a time, I had the opportunity to start a bagel revolution after befriending an LA bagel shop owner who had volunteered to replicate my favorite Toronto bagel if I could get him a sample. Unfortunately, this window quickly closed, as I found that every time I attempted to traffic fresh bagels from Toronto to L.A. I would inevitably end up eating all of them on my flight before arriving in California.

Recently an (undisclosed) member of my family who moved to Toronto from Montreal claimed you couldn’t get a good bagel in Toronto. In shtetl times this harmless comment might have resulted in blows or some primitive rock-throwing competition to assert physical dominance in the conversation. As I write this I imagine the countless debates that once would have raged in the steam rooms and bath-houses of European Toronto. My Father-in-law, a man one might call a connoisseur of the bagel, recently returned from a trip to Paris with my Mother-in-law, where they claimed they had tasted the best bagel of their entire life in the Marais district!

Mythical Parisian bagels notwithstanding, I believe there’s no better place to get a bagel than Toronto. When it comes to personal preference, Toronto has something for everyone. Like the ethnic makeup of the city itself, the bagels are diverse. We have twisters for anyone who thinks you can’t have too much of a good thing. These extra-large twisted marvels are crispy on the outside and filled with doughy magnificence on the inside. We have fluffy, air-blown, bagels you can get from Gryffes or What a Bagel that taste so light they’re completely guilt free. And, yes, we also have our very own Montreal-style St. Urbain bagels at various Bagel Houses all around the city. I would give a nominal edge to them for flavor. It’s true, It would seem Toronto is literally the nexus of the entire bagel universe!

Perhaps this would account for my Zaida’s remark after once treating him to an ultra-gourmet birthday dinner at one of Toronto’s most popular fine-dining restaurant. “You know,” he said, “I think my favorite meal is a crispy salad and a bagel.” I can’t fault him. There’s something inherently comforting and satisfying about the simplicity of a good bagel. The symmetry of it’s design would be right at home in any zen garden — and talk about delicious. The only real challenge is trying to eat just one and since this is a fitness blog, all I can say is: try your best.

Three Key Bagel Destinations

  1. Bagel World (Wilson Avenue just West of Bathurst)
    • Home of the meal-sized Twister and the Flagel.
  1. Gryffes (Bathurst at Melrose)
    • For a light, guilt-free bagel, accept no substitutes.
  1. The Bagel House (Multiple locations including Leaside Village on Baview)
    • Home of the Montreal-style St. Urbain bagel.