I know it seems odd that after a week in northern California I should be talking about bagels. A case of recency trumping primacy (there are many good things to eat in San Francisco - the bagels are not among them).
After returning home to South Florida, I was intrigued to read on the Florida Chowhound board of a new bagel place opening up in Delray Beach called "The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co." The pitch is that they claim to have found a way to duplicate, through "purification and modification," the supposedly magical effects of the New York public water supply on bagel-preparation.[*]
Opinions among the chowhounds seem decidedly mixed, with some pronouncing them the "Best bagels in S. Fl.," while others declared them "really nothing special." As is somewhat typical, many of the posters (particularly the cheerleaders) are first-time posters, miraculously roused to action by the appearance of a new bagel place.
Anyhoo ... I happened to be up in Palm Beach this morning, and Brooklyn Water Bagel was only a brief detour on my drive back to Miami. I stopped in and they do indeed have lots of fancy metal tanks on display which create the Brooklyn holy water. Other than that, it's a modified fast-food setup where you order at the counter, pour your own coffee or soft drink, and get a card which plugs into a little device on your table to tell them where to deliver your order.
I had requested a lox eggs & onions with a toasted poppy seed bagel, but alas, their toaster was behaving over-aggressively and had been put on time out for the morning. Considering they just opened a week ago, I was not going to hold this against them; besides, it gave me a better opportunity to sample their bagel au naturel, and they assured me the bagels were still warm from the oven. There was another mild snafu a few minutes later when, instead of getting a LEO with a bagel on the side, I instead got a LEO stuffed within said bagel (which was a different but very similarly described menu item). I can deal with that in stride too. It's all about the bagel anyway, right?
As for that bagel. I was underwhelmed. It had a nicely crusty exterior, but otherwise it struck me as too fluffy and risen, and too dry. In fact, for a bagel fresh out of the oven, it felt oddly stale. I can't imagine driving all the way from Miami to Delray even for an authentic Brooklyn bagel, but this one certainly wouldn't be worth the schlep.
But maybe I'd just forgotten what a good bagel tasted like - an easy thing to do amidst all the imposters these days. So as I continued driving south, I recalled another small detour along the way - Sage Deli in Hallandale. Lacking Brooklyn Water Bagel's fast-food franchise aspirations, Sage is an old-school Jewish deli that bakes its own bagels on premises, and also offers the full gamut of the usuals - several different smoked fish, corned beef and pastrami, deli salads, knishes, blintzes, etc. They also had what I recalled to be some of the best bagels in South Florida, though it had been some time since I'd had one. I grabbed a quick sesame bagel (toasted with a working toaster!) topped with scallion cream cheese at the counter, and was reminded what a good bagel should be. Crusty on the outside, but still chewy and even a bit dense on the inside - substantial, serious and not in any way fluffy. It's not a New York bagel, but it's as close as I've gotten here in South Florida - even without any Brooklyn water.
The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co.
14451 S. Military Trail
Delray Beach, FL 33484
800 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd.
Hallandale, FL 33009