What Happened to the NY Bagel?

I’ve been in NYC for three days and have yet to have a bagel, which is kind of remarkable. Bagels and real Italian food are usually my first stop.  I was due to leave today (am on the Acela now, Washington-bound), so this was my last chance.

The other day, heading to the 4 train, I spotted a likely spot just inside Grand Central.  It was called Bageli, or something like that, and I drew the conclusion it would have, well, bagels.

This morning, though, I discovered it had all sorts of other breads, artisanal spin-offs of traditional ethnic fare including a very tempting poppy and fig strudel-y thing.  But I wanted a bagel, so headed downstairs to the food hall.

On the way I passed fully armed guardsmen in camouflage, bullet-proof vests and enough equipment hanging off their belts to … do what?  I’m not sure, but they looked prepared. I remember how this heightened level of security became commonplace after 9/11, and I’ve certainly gotten used to see it everywhere.  But it still made me sad.

Arriving downstairs, I saw a stand for “meats and dairy” and felt I was close to a genuine New York bagel.  I approached.  Yes, they had poppy.  This is something you can’t get in Alabama.  Besides the fact that what passes as a bagel in places like Panera Bread is in reality a small loaf of bread, it also comes in bizarre flavors like Asiago and blueberry, but not in the quintessential and rather pedestrian poppy.  What is that about?

I also saw that they offered just the right selection of spreads.  No raising walnut, or strawberry cream cheese.  No.  they had plain cream cheese, cream cheese with scallions, and lox cream cheese.  I ordered a poppy with the lox spread.

His next question caught me by surprise, just like the select bus on 23rd Street yesterday.  “Lettuce and tomato?” he asked.  I must have looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, and then collected myself.  “No.”

Toasted? he asked next, another option that was never offered in my youth.  “Is it fresh?” I countered.  He nodded.  I said, “No toast.”