Big Easy Bagels

We don’t live in New York, Philadelphia, or even San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a good bagel.

You can grab a plastic-wrapped roll of bagels, or those bagel-like imitations, at the grocery store and call it a day, but it’s a mistake to underestimate the brilliance of a well-made bagel. A great bagel has a chewy, soft interior, crisp exterior and can stand on its own – smooth and glossy – or be adorned in sesame seeds, onion, and, of course, “everything.” It serves as a hearty vehicle for all kinds of toppings, from the traditional schmear of cream cheese and layering of lox to . . . well . . . you name it.

As an added bonus, and for as yet indiscernible reasons, bagels with their many add-ins tend to be lower in price than your average sandwich. Is it because it seems smaller and people complain? Are meats, cheeses, eggs etc. less filling when loaded on a bagel as opposed to other kinds of breads? Two slices of bread average around 75 grams, whereas a bagel is typically over 100 grams, which seems like a great deal. Not to mention, most shops serving bagel sandwiches really like to load them up, mind you, we’re not complaining!

Take for example the fresh bagels to be had at Leo’s Bread in Mid-City. Owner, operator, and self-taught baker (among other things) Kate Heller began her rise selling breads from the trunk of car to vending at Crescent City Farmers Market. The proof is in the product, as they say (do they say that?) and all you have to do is head to Bell St., squashed between Bayou Road and Esplanade Avenue, and grab some coffee and a bagel sandwich to-go. This time, it’s a sesame bagel with fluffy scrambled eggs, American cheese and bacon for $9, but maybe next time you opt for a crisp, plain bagel with creamy avocado and a spicy chili crunch. It’s all good!

Breakfast bagel at Leo’s Bread

These days, you can’t rightly discuss bagels in New Orleans without talking about Flour Moon. One of so many food-centric businesses born during the pandemic, Flour Moon Bagels is the creation of Breanne Kostyk, a pastry chef who’s “backyard bagels” sold to friends and neighbors steadily bloomed. Kostyk’s brick and mortar version of Flour Moon Bagels opened just off the Lafitte Greenway a couple of years later. Though they also offer Hey! Coffee and bialy (a bagel-like Polish roll filled with onion), the bagels are where we’re at. A “Full Moon” with an Everything bagel, open-faced and layered with cream cheese, smoked salmon, shaved red onion, crisp cucumbers, and tangy capers will set you back $14, but a “Harvest Moon” on a pumpernickel with roasted carrot spread, nutty tahini, olives, fresh herbs and duqqa (a Middle Eastern herb, spice and nut condiment) is only $12.

It’s oh-so fitting to find a bagelry on Freret Street. It’s a corridor bursting with restaurants, growing exponentially since its “main street re-birth” a few years after Hurricane Katrina. In the eight blocks between Napoleon and Jefferson avenues, there are over 20 restaurants and that’s not including coffee shops! Anyhow, in the middle of the block between Upperline and Valence Streets lies the oh-so Humble Bagel. Initially opened (with a somewhat rocky start) in 2014 by Casey Mackintosh and Tara Mikhail, the shop offers a large range of hand-rolled bagels – from Plain and Everything to Cinnamon Raisin and Honey Whole Wheat. They also offer breakfast/brunch type sandwiches including standouts such as a bagel (we choose garlic!) with eggs, sauteed mushrooms, fresh spinach and Swiss for under $9, oh and for only a few bucks more, grab a chocolate chip bagel (only on Sundays) slathered with peanut butter and strawberry preserves for dessert.

Though Bywater Bakery, owned and operated by former big-time bakery boss Chaya Conrad, is known for its incredible pastries and cakes (especially those spectacular king cakes, c’mon 12th night!), they’ve also developed something of a cult following for their bagels. Every Friday, and only Friday, the bold red bakery and cafe on the corner of Dauphine and Independence offers a bevvy of fresh boiled and baked bagels – from plain and poppy seed, to Asiago cheese – with a few basic schmears. For breakfast under a tenspot, you simply can’t go wrong getting an Asiago bagel topped with bacon, eggs and cheese, but go the extra mile with a green onion schmear while you’re at it and thank us later.

Finally, another locally-loved bagel spot is Gracious Bakery. Chef Megan Forman and her husband Jay started their bakery over a decade ago in the industrial area of Gert Town. Though they’ve recently left the original building, they’re still making the air sweeter in their locations on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District, and further Uptown on Prytania Street. Gracious’ shops are typically filled with sumptuously sweet pastries, everything from cruffins and morning buns to croissants, donuts, and cookies, but they also serve hand-rolled bagels. They keep it simple, only offering everything, plain and sesame, but they have a lovely breakfast-bagel sandwich made with house-cured salmon, lemon caper cream cheese, and thinly-sliced red onion for $12. It even comes with a side of seasonal fruit!

Don’t you dare let anyone tell you it’s impossible to find a good bagel in the Big Easy.

*Article originally published in the January 2024 issue of Where Y’at Magazine

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