Joshing on Bagels

Bagels, Flagels, Bialys, and Hawaiian Pizza

Post 60-Year Reunion email banter.
Participants: Joe Polacco, Dan Turner, Mike Kwatinetz, Joel Wittman, Stan Mandell, Shelly Sachs, Jon Spinner, and Arty Aptowitz.
(Commentary is lightly edited for publication.)

Joe P: I took a cultural trip back to old NY. Yes, Katz’, Open Mic/Bagels/lox at the old school, Tribeca, and their beautiful serving staff (and food wasn’t so bad either). I got to see two sets of married cousins, 7/8 Italian. One is the vivacious daughter of my late Uncle Mark, son of shtetl survivors. The other three are from the mezzogiorno. I loved the mixes of folks—never once did I think of “Replacement.” My cugini on Grand Street are a tarantella step or two from Kossar’s.

I HAD to bring bialys back for my Uruguayan wife, and I dealt with caribeños to close the deal on a dozen. What a city!!! Most Midwesterners never heard of them. (BTW, my cuzes on Grand live on the “Bialystok” alley right off it.) It is my sacred duty to spread culture to the hinterland. Problem is, there’s little time for what’s going to be on the next exam.

Dan T: I was back on “Lon Gisland” for almost a week in May (visiting family) and, in addition to bringing home MANY dozen bialys (we have good bagel bakeries here in Monterey but no bialys), they have something new – a “flagel”. It’s a flattened bagel. The ones we brought home are sesame seed and I don’t know if that’s all they make, or if you can get a flagel of any bagel. They are a bit larger in diameter than a bialy but not nearly as high/thick as a bagel or a bialy.

Joel W: Flagels have been around NYC area for many years. Many toppings including everything, sesame, plain, onion, and the same variety in whole wheat. Glad you enjoyed.

Stan M: Good to wake up to a chorus of flagelhorns!

Shelly S: You’re just trumpeting your sense of humor.

Jon S: I see everyone is still in Stuyvesant pun mode…

Shelly S: Just having pun together, Jon.

Joe P: I’m getting flagelhorny!!!!!

Dan P: Hey! You guys with access to flagels. Send some to Joe. Overnight – so they don’t get moldy! The man is obviously in flagel extremis.

Joe P: I’ll resort to selflagelation.

Jon S: Polacco, you go too far with the punning (but that is a good one!)!

Shelly S: Best one yet!

Joel W: What – no mention of bialys? Love them – 2 flavors – garlic and onion. And how about the “bulkas” – shaped like a hero bread – and “pletzels” – large, round flat bialy type treat. Next time you all are in NYC make Kossar’s Bialys on Grand Street a go-to destination. 

Mike K: I love bialys as well but at the time they were not available in Ca – now they are

Joe P: My last word on the subject today, but not the last word for sure. I used to teach plant molecular biology, and among the first genes we could study in depth were the storage glutelins (gluten if you must) of wheat grains. Lots of cultural history there, something we could bite into (sorry). The point is that different genotypes, varieties of wheat have different glutelin alleles at many different loci, and their gene products can be classified as hydrophobic, etc. We always connected with students of all backgrounds comparing/ranking flaky sfogliatelle, with semolina bread, bialys, and bagels, etc. The, ‘why do you boil bagels before baking them?’ question awoke physical chemical circuits.

Jon S: Ah, pletzels! Always thought of them as a variant of kaiser rolls. I just had a kaiser roll (poppy seed) that I got up in West Hartford at the Crown Supermarket (baked on the premises).

Dan T: I mentioned bialys. But you can have the garlic ones!

Joe P: As usual, MO was flyover country for the NY-CA flight.

Dan T: Joe, I’m sorry I just flew over you. I never would have done that if I’d known you were down there. I’ve never been to Kansas City (is that where you are?). If I come out there, would you show me around? I’ve known a lot of people who lived in the Mid-west and loved it. Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Arkansas to name a few. You’ve been out there quite a while, haven’t you? When is a good time of year, weather-wise, to visit?

Arty A: (re: flagels) Sorry, not new. Florida has had them for decades. To my NYC, Jewish sensibilities, they are tref. All part of the explosion of adding anything to the dough and serving it with whatever can be put on or in it (ham?). Though my wife and sister-in-law eat them, and I will admit to eating a cinnamon raisin bagel for breakfast, I draw the line at blueberries.

Dan T: I agree with Arty. A man has to stand for something! We must maintain some principles and standards so I, too, draw the line at blueberries!! When I got out here (Monterey) in the early ’70’s, there were no bagels. The nearest bagel bakeries were 100 miles away in a Jewish neighborhood in SF and in Berkeley. There were, also, almost no Jews out here. One of my staffers said, in about 1975, that she thought there was a Jewish girl in her class in the 3rd grade – maybe. My mother-in-law (a lovely woman – got along better with her than I did with my wife – but she was too old for me so I had to marry her daughter) sort of screwed up her face upon biting into her first bagel and thought it was a bit chewy. Not a big hit. So, when a Jewish guy and an Italian guy (I think they were both from NYC) opened a bagel bakery here in the mid-’70’s, I thought they were nuts – and doomed to failure. I probably would have been very successful as a business advisor – as long as people did exactly the opposite of what I advised – because they were immediately and spectacularly successful, soon expanding to about half a dozen sites on The Peninsula and in Salinas. The natives couldn’t get enough of them. They eventually sold the operation to Cambodians who have been running it successfully for years now. America – what a place!

Mike K: Hate to add to the fray but I wrote a blog 25 years ago on how West Coast people did not know that bagels were supposed to be fresh from the bagel bakery and not toasted. Now, 25 years later, I find that we buy them eat a few fresh and then freeze the rest and nuke and toast them when we want to eat them days later. The world of bagels has changed where it’s harder to find great bagels in NYC and easier to find very good ones (fresh) in Palo Alto area.

Mike K: Meant to also add – not only wouldn’t I eat a flagel but also don’t like the various weird combos (fruit flavored bagels, etc) offered in California and stick to poppy, sesame, onion, salt and pumpernickel bagels!

Shelly S: You live in the land of pineapple pizza, Mike. Nothing should surprise you.

Mike K: Funny you should say that – when Michelle and I first got married and were about to go to Hawaii on our first vacation (from UC Berkeley) our friends bought us a “Hawaiian Pizza” which of course was a pineapple one!

Jon S: Just got some bagels – excellent crust, nice and chewy – from Zuckers – in NYC. Eight locations in NYC (Manhattan only), but you can order them from Goldbelly.com and they come in a zipper fresh pack. Of course, we two cannot eat 28 bagels – so we have frozen some of them! But they are great.

Dan T: Shelly, you say “pineapple pizza” like it’s a bad thing.

Shelly S: Let’s put it this way, Dan, if you turned up on Arthur Avenue or Mulberry Street and ordered a Hawaiian pizza, you might want to take steps to protect your kneecaps.

Jon S: And Dan…it is a bad thing…

Joe P: I was AFRAID you’d bring up a pineapple pizza. Book ‘em ALL, Dano!

Jon S: Absolutely great line, Joe! And throw away the key!

Joe P: Good to see that many of us still have standards.

Arty A: And don’t try it ANYWHERE in Brooklyn!

End of conversation

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