Bushwick resident Mike Varley, 38, spent 13 months tasting bagels from 202 bagel places in the city, coming up with a ranking and score for each one before compiling an interactive map displaying the locations with an icon grade and scores based on a five-point scale.
According to Varley, the best bagel place is Hot Bagels (P&C Bagels) at 7905 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village, earning a score of 4.75 out of 5. That store has been operating there for 29 years.
When conducting his taste tests, Varley would always order an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, which, according to Varley, served two functions.
“First, it operated as a means of controlled comparison,” Varley said. “Second, both options allow for creativity and variety in preparation while still being among the most popular order options.”
He splits his reviews into three categories: store, bagel and cream cheese. Additionally, Varley said he tried to identify what may be unique about each experience. His reviews typically take about an hour to write.
Varley described this project as an offshoot of one he began in 2020 called Total Clarity when he and his wife walked five marathons a week in a year for a total of 7,000 miles across the five boroughs of the city.
“Pretty early on I realized I had a unique opportunity to survey all that NYC bagels had to offer — both because I would be visiting every neighborhood and because I’d be burning the bagels off with a marathon a day,” Varley said.
He tried three bagels a week throughout Total Clarity before devoting another month to trying 50 more locations.
When it came to P&C Bagels, Varley said “the combination of unique store aesthetics, a great staff, the crusty toasty quality of the bagel and the freshness of the cream cheese with great scallion texture additions made [it] a winner.”
According to the owner of P&C Bagels, Linda Abatangelo, the store has been much more busy since the review was posted. She said they’ve been getting customers from all over the place, including each borough of the city, across Long Island and parts of New Jersey.
Abatangelo is extremely grateful and honored for her store to get this much positive feedback. “We went through such a hard time during the pandemic,” Abatangelo said. “[Now,] we’re filled with joy.”
Varley said he is already looking into adding more stores that he missed or that may have opened up after he created the list. He said popular demand has been dictating which stores he has visited or intends to try.
According to Everything is Everything, the ideal bagel store has a combination of “second nature intangibles and intimate familiarity with services offered.” While he admits more established stores are usually at an advantage, more contemporary stores can certainly catch up with thoughtful intentions, customer engagement and flexibility to experiment with services.
“A ‘5’ bagel store represents the ultimate in presentation, product freshness, order management and bagel staff skill,” Varley said.
While Everything is Everything does provide detailed reviews, Varley emphasizes that the grading system for bagels is still subjective.
According to Varley, “the qualities of an elite bagel are peak freshness, a strong chew identity, compelling flavor and texture dialogue between topping and dough and its ability to enhance the applied spread via radiant heating, texture complement or otherwise.”
When it comes to cream cheese, the application plays a big role in deciding the score.
“Too little creates a persistent feeling of longing; too much is a logistical nightmare of spread management and bagel obfuscation,” Varley said. “Messy preparation can result in constant napkin grabbing that mars the experience.”
In addition to application amount and technique, other factors Varley considers when judging the cream cheese are viscosity, dairy perspective, scallion texture, scallion flavoring and interplay with the bagel.
Varley also created a post on his website explaining what he refers to as “The Ten Bagel Axioms.” These axioms are:
- Do not toast a bagel if you know it is hot or fresh.
- Toasting raises the floor of a bagel but lowers the ceiling.
- Bagels from appetizing stores are designed to be eaten with lox.
- Stores that put effort into their spread displays generally make good bagels.
- Higher trafficked stores beget frequently fresher bagels beget higher trafficked stores.
- While some bagels are worth waiting for, never underestimate the pleasure of a 30-second bagel transaction executed by a bagel store pro.
- Caraway seed is the best non-standard everything topping, and the least used.
- At their peak, bagels are the barbecue of breakfast: heavy, savory and almost too messy to bear.
- An irregularly shaped bagel will almost always taste better than a perfectly round bagel.
- If you can smell the bagels, you’re in the right place.