Phil Narodick (seated) and Eli Zigas (with hat) and Ilyse Magy (in the red), the organizers of the Schmearicle on King Street.
Phil Narodick (seated) and Eli Zigas (with hat) and Ilyse Magy (in the red), the organizers of the Schmearicle on King Street.

In season of miracles, Berkeley bagel-lovers saw a ‘schmearicle’ 

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

Yes, we know it’s almost Passover, but we take our role seriously when it comes to reporting bagel news.

Last month, a group of bagel-loving friends and Berkeley residents came together for “The Schmearicle on King Street: A Bagel Taste-Off and Fundraiser for Ukraine Relief.”

“All of my Jewish friends have really strong opinions about bagels, and most of them from the East Coast have really strong opinions about how East Coast bagels are better,” said one of the organizers, Phil Narodick. “I feel like we’re in this boom of amazing bagels in the Bay Area, and I wanted to see if California bagels could go head-to-head with those from the East Coast.”

This isn’t Narodick’s first time in this column; we wrote about him in December, when an amusing post he wrote on NextDoor about someone stealing his cabbage soup recipe garnered an amusing collection of responses. He organized the fundraiser with his friends Eli Zigas and Ilyse Magy.

“We will stuff our faces, crown a Best Bay Bagel, and finally answer the question about whether we compare,” said the email announcing the event.

It took some doing, requiring bagels to be shipped in from across the country. Two were from New York, Ess-a-Bagel in Manhattan and Sammy’s New York Bagels from Westchester; two from Seattle (Narodick’s hometown), Rubinstein Bagels and Eltana; plus Jersey Bagels from Detroit; Sherman’s Deli and Bakery from Palm Springs; and Rosenfeld’s Bagels from Newton, Massachusetts. Local contenders included Boichik Bagels from Berkeley; Nick’s Pizza, Bakery and Deli; Hella Bagels; and Beauty’s Bagels from Oakland; and Midnite Bagels and Daily Driver from San Francisco.

RELATED: Hey Nextdoor, who stole his cabbage soup recipe?

Narodick acknowledged the whole thing wasn’t exactly a fair fight, since the bagels that were flown in weren’t as fresh as the local ones.

With about 80 votes cast for the people’s choice awards, the winners came as a bit of a surprise.

Boichik and Midnite, both declared superior to New York bagels by the New York Times, didn’t even place in the local rankings. Nick’s came in first, Hella was second, and Beauty’s came in third. In the non-Bay Area category, Rubinstein Bagels took the top award, Ess-a-Bagel came in second, and Jersey placed third.

The Rubinstein everything bagel had a mix of traditional and nontraditional spices, and Narodick didn’t expect it to win. But then it did. “It seems like people out here tend to enjoy more sour, creatively spiced bagels, as opposed to the classic traditional New York bagel,” he said.

Despite the upset and the sight of Boichik and Midnite walking away empty-handed, Narodick said the event confirmed what he already knew.

“There are so many good bagels right now that the old truism that you can’t find a good bagel here isn’t true at all anymore,” he said. “It was great to see how excited people were. There were a lot of bagel T-shirts and strong opinions on every bagel. I loved that.”

The event raised nearly $3,000, which will go to World Central Kitchen to feed refugees from Ukraine.

While we’re talking about hametz… Last year we covered Alex Tishman’s Fire Swamp Provisions, a bakery startup selling bagels and babka mostly at the Novato farmers market. (We remember the blueberry Meyer lemon babka in particular.) Now, the brand’s Parker House buns, English muffins and brioche babka (both brown sugar cinnamon and Nutella dark chocolate varieties) are available at Berkeley Bowl. Midnite Bagels are also at the Bowl, along with Boichik Bagels.

Alex Tishman at Novato’s weekly farmers market. (Photo/Oakes Norman, @CameraCoffeeGuy)
Alex Tishman at Novato’s weekly farmers market. (Photo/Oakes Norman, @CameraCoffeeGuy)
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."