The Forward's Rob Eshman (left) and Boichik Bagels founder Emily Winston during “The Great Bagel Off” Zoom event, Aug. 24, 2021.
The Forward's Rob Eshman (left) and Boichik Bagels founder Emily Winston during “The Great Bagel Off” Zoom event, Aug. 24, 2021.

East Coast vs. West Coast at Forward’s virtual bagel panel; Wise Sons opens in L.A.

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Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

The national Jewish publication the Forward teamed up with the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center of New York to host “The Great Bagel Off” on Aug. 24. Its goal was to come to greater resolution after New York Times food critic Tejal Rao’s article earlier this year that proclaimed the best bagels were being made in California.

Hosted by Rob Eshman, the Forward’s national editor and an expert on Jewish food, the event included panelist Emily Winston, owner of Berkeley’s Boichik Bagels.

The panel wasn’t exactly definitive in its assessment, since Winston obviously thinks hers are the best. The Forward’s “lox columnist” Len Berk, another panelist, is an employee of Zabar’s, and therefore said he had to recuse himself from the vote since Zabar’s bagels were included, and New York Times food writer Julia Moskin had to stay objective as a journalist.

In addition to Boichik’s and Zabar’s, other bagel samples came from Los Angeles and New York. The panelists were told to freeze and then defrost them to make the tasting competition fair.

The many bagels of Boichik Bagels. (Photo/Lydia Daniller)
The many bagels of Boichik Bagels. (Photo/Lydia Daniller)

Given that West Coast bagel makers were using more expensive raw ingredients, Moskin said they were better by certain modern standards as they are “individual, and crafted from ingredients you can see and taste. … West Coast bagels have a lot of taste and deliver on their own, but East Coast bagels are better as a backdrop.”

Eshman agreed with Moskin’s assessment, in that the West Coast iterations were more delicious tasted plain, but the New York specimens — he was speaking of those made at Zabar’s in particular — gave him that nostalgia for his New York bagel days.

Panelist Imani Jackson, a Forward food columnist and owner of the Minneapolis-based Chopped & Served, a community catering company, said she preferred Boichik’s over the competition.

Noting she might be influenced by the fact that she was able to talk to Winston as a fellow panelist, Jackson said, “I could taste your childhood and experience in the bagel. Being able to taste who you are as well as to talk to you adds more value to your bagel.”

After some false alarms, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen opened an L.A. restaurant in Culver City last week, Eater LA reports. Wise Sons opened in San Francisco in 2012 and has since expanded throughout the Bay Area as well as to Tokyo. According to the article, owner Evan Bloom, who grew up in Ventura in SoCal, saw a need for deli food in that neighborhood (there is still plenty of classic Jewish deli in Los Angeles).

In addition to classics such as house-smoked pastrami and bagels made fresh daily, the kimchi Reuben has made it down south from the Bay, as has a pastrami breakfast burrito. An L.A. (and Tokyo)–only dish is a diner tuna melt. Wise Sons L.A. is at 9552 Washington Blvd., and so far is open for breakfast and lunch, with dinner service coming soon.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."