SRQ Magazine | April 2017
What’s shaped like a ring, both soft and crunchy at the same time, inspires philosophizing on the nature of life and holds an origin story dating back to the 15th century? You guessed it—the bagel. But more importantly, the style that emerged out of the cramped bakeries of old-school New York. For those of us that have spent any time in the boroughs of New York, the neighborhoods of New Jersey or the surrounding Northeast, the bagel reigns supreme, Southerners left completely unawares to the singular delights that come from a darned-good boiled bagel and a hearty schmear.
The key to the New York style? Other than the innate charm of your bustling neighborhood hole-in-the-wall bagel spot (where you’ll likely need to have your order ready as soon as you approach the counter—no dilly dallying! Ah, New York!), the secret is in the waterworks. Specifically: the boil rather than the steam. Kettle-boiling before baking gives the New York bagel an edge—boiled have a shiny golden crust while steamed are dull and dry; boiled are round and fluffy while steamed are flat on the bottom; boiled are chewy and dense inside while steamed are air-filled and weak. And some contend that the magic ingredient is found in the local New York water, the Big Apple agua containing low concentrations of calcium carbonate and magnesium, allowing for a seriously puffy bagel. The takeaway: if the bagel doesn’t boil, fuggedaboutit.
For more than just the roll-with-a-hole that seems ubiquitous across the Florida plains, Neil Shapiro serves up piping-hot, hand-rolled, kettle-boiled, “real deal” New York bagels. Shapp’s Bagels bagels blow all other iterations out of the proverbial (and literal) water—his dough gets hand-rolled, proofed (48 hours of yeast interacting with dough to lock in flavor) and boiled in water from the Catskills at a supplier in the Bronx, all then flash-frozen and sent to Shapiro’s Florida oven where they are baked to order. “People from the North and Montreal always have to settle here,” says Shapiro. “I enjoy more than anything when the people from Brooklyn come in and rave about these bagels for 30 minutes. Nobody in Brooklyn or Manhattan even knows what a steamed bagel is unless they go to a Panera or an Einstein’s (which a New Yorker would never do).”
The brainchild of Shapiro’s wife Robin and chef son Jeffrey (who now lives in Manhattan), Shapp’s Bagels shares the Northgate bakery space with the bread-baking family behind Glenn Family Bakery, the largest distributor around town of Shapiro’s bagels. Within the open space (the smell inside nothing short of rhapsodic), bagels are baked to order before the sun comes up each morning for people who have ordered from Shapp’s Bagels’ website, along with the supply going to the various “bagel drops” and retailers in the area. Classic flavors like egg, everything (double-seeded, of course), poppy seed, sesame seed and pumpernickel can be picked up at over 10 local purveyors—Perq Coffee Bar, Simon’s Coffee House and the Village Café are all drops, along with Shapiro’s own bakery (which will soon be a fully fledged bagel café). Or, head to any of the various farmers markets every week and grab a half-dozen from the Glenn Family stand.
Happy to pull out his scale and weigh his bagels against the competition—each of his weighs in around 4.5 to 5 ounces, while the steamed ring a meager 4 to 4.2—Shapiro finds the taste and smell of home in each of his creations. Originally from New Jersey, he recalls how his mother would send him care packages full of bagels to his out-of-state college dorm, “to make me feel like I was home,” he says. And the people constantly flowing in and out of his bakery clearly feel the same, each lingering with animated stories of their various Northern bagel histories, forging the personal connection only a truly great bagel can bring about. “I’m trying to build that New York feeling where people come in and schmooze a little bit,” says Shapiro. “The people that get excited are the people who really care about bagels.” In that case, count us in.