By: Jason Perlow
New York versus Boston. These two northeastern cities have been rivals in sports and culture for generations. The Yankees vs. the Red Sox, the Giants vs. the Patriots, the Rangers vs. the Bruins, Manhattan Chowder vs. New England Chowdah. The natives of both cities are proud of their teams and their food traditions.
So it is no surprise that when Bostonians and New Yorkers move to South Florida, they bring their rivalries with them along with their aggressive driving styles. For example, my wife and I have a dear friend from New York who moved to Boston, switched allegiances, and proudly wears Red Sox and Patriots gear. Her accent is undeniably New York — far stronger than mine, and yet, she flagrantly displays the sigils of our sports nemesis. It makes my blood boil with rage, even though I am not that much of a baseball or football fan. The South Boston accent itself drives me crazy when I am forced to listen to it in close company — but to watch a New Yorker wear that stuff and proclaim fealty to our enemies? Unimaginable.
It is an equal source of conflict when it comes to the major food traditions — those two things, bagels, and seafood are not meant to mix in a shared setting. And yet, I love them both, having lived in the New York area for 40 years, and having worked and vacationed in many parts of New England, indulging in its excellent oceanic delicacies.
So when NY Bagel Factory opened in Coral Springs, with a menu that pays homage to both cities, I can’t help but wonder: Can a quintessentially New York bagel shop co-exist with something that represents the soul of New England? I left my Yankees cap at home to find out.
A Tale of Two Restaurants
The story of NY Bagel Factory began with a legal dispute. Originally a Brooklyn Water Bagel franchise, the store is physically and technologically impressive. It seats over 150 people and features a mechanized, volume production system for boiled bagels with reverse osmosis water filtration, and also a mineral additive system that was intended to simulate New York municipal water chemistry.
When the South Florida Brooklyn Water Bagel franchisees had disagreements regarding operations and fiduciary responsibility of the parent company, litigation ensued. In 2017, many of the 24 locations went independent. The former Coral Springs store and the Delray Beach store (now known as Brighton Beach Bagel) are two such examples of “rogue” Brooklyn Water Bagel franchises.
In Broward County, bagel stores are a dime a dozen, especially in Coral Springs. Most of them, however, do not make the chewy-style bagel of my Queens youth. Instead, these are a softer variety, typically steamed and not boiled, optimized for sandwiches. They are also less challenging for the dentally-deficient. Bagel sandwiches are an abomination as the first bite into an authentic specimen would cause all the ingredients to spill out the sides, which makes the softer steamed variety necessary.
Bagels are originally intended to be consumed open-faced, with “appetizing” — softened butter, cream cheese spreads, salads, smoked fish, tomatoes and onions, and sliced cheeses. In compliance with Jewish dietary law (kashrut), “Appetizing Stores” (bagel places) are traditional “dairy” establishments, and Kosher Delicatessens are strictly meat restaurants. Thanks to this clear distinction, bagels were never meant to be eaten with deli meats — nor as heavy breakfast sandwiches with bacon, sausage, ham, and eggs. Regardless, these softer (and shall I say ersatz) bagels are now served everywhere due to the mass secularization of Ashkenazi Jewish culture and the overall popularity of the bagel itself.
New England is the seafood and chowder capital of the United States. Notable because of the unique briny flavor of their cold-water shellfish, such as Quahog and Ipswich clams, Cape Cod scallops, and Maine lobster that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
In South Florida, good clam chowder, fried belly clams, fried scallops, and lobster rolls are in short supply, because all of these ingredients have to be flown in fresh from up north, and therefore very expensive due to high seasonal demand. Most South Floridians are unwilling to pay the hefty premium for them.
The very idea of mixing a Bagel/Appetizing restaurant and a New England seafood shack sounds outrageous — perhaps even sacrilegious given the Jewish cultural prohibition on shellfish. And yet, the New York Bagel Factory in Coral Springs is such a place.
Bagels and Deli, the way it was meant to be
Despite the franchise rebellion, the bagels from NY Bagel Factory stays true to their New York roots. I had a rare opportunity to sample an “everything” bagel fresh out of the oven, and it was an ethereal experience. The bagels are made in an authentic way, boiled, with the right amount of malt flavoring and fermentation of the dough. The omission of mineral additives from the store’s previous incarnation, meant to replicate New York tap water makes no difference to the end product. The myth of “New York Water” as a critical ingredient of everything from pizzas to bagels is just that, a myth. These are the bagels you are looking for, and they are $12.99 a baker’s dozen (13).
In addition to bagels, you can also get real deli sandwiches here. I had a 12-ounce double meat pastrami sandwich on grilled rye for $15.99. It was a monster, enough for two to share, with perfectly done tater tots, cucumber salad, and a dill pickle spear. The pastrami itself is sourced from United Deli/Sy Ginsberg in Detroit, one of the better commercial products currently available, and is steamed to perfection. The restaurant also makes its round potato knishes from scratch, and they are excellent.
If you are looking to wash this all down, there are multiple flavors of iced coffee on tap to choose from, and since refills are free, you can try them all.
Basic Fried Seafood the New England Way
The New England seafood lineup here is quite impressive. Everything, from the lobsters to the belly clams, and the quahogs to the scallops — are flown down here by the restaurant’s new partner, Jeffrey Dolinsky, a former COO and President of Brooklyn Water Bagel and veteran operator of seafood restaurants in the greater Boston area. The preparation of the items is decidedly Massachusetts/Cape Cod style and are faithful representations that echo my years of visits to legendary oceanside seafood shacks like Christie’s (Lynn, MA), Sea Swirl (Mystic, CT) or Evelyn’s (Tiverton, RI).
Frying shellfish is no easy feat. The coating itself has to be light so as not to absorb too much oil and but also thick enough to provide that crispiness that fried seafood aficionados desire. The New England Seafood Shack menu at New York Bagel Factory uses a simply seasoned flour dredge, formulated to avoid overpowering the natural taste of shellfish. Everything here is fried just long enough to barely cook it, and not a second more.
This is a very old-school style that only the best and most revered spots in New England (such as those mentioned above) still practice. In South Florida, many seafood restaurants use seasoned bread crumbs instead, and you can taste the difference with things such as Ipswich belly clams and diver scallops (that you are going to pay through the nose for) where you don’t want their natural flavoring interfered with. Lobster rolls here are also excellent and straightforward — just steamed Maine lobster meat with a little bit of mayonnaise and chopped celery, over a split and toasted New England hot dog bun — the way God intended. The clam chowder is also equally simple but delicious — made with a flour roux, butter, milk, salt and pepper, finely chopped celery and onion, and generous amounts of chopped Quahog clam meat. This one doesn’t have salt pork or bacon in it, which is my preferred preparation, but it is still a standout version.
The bitter rivalry between fans of New York and Boston sports franchises will never be settled in the arena. But bagels and fried seafood appear to have found a peaceful home at New York Bagel Factory in Coral Springs.
NEW YORK BAGEL FACTORY / NEW ENGLAND SEAFOOD SHACK
2554 N University Dr, Coral Springs, FL 33065
Open seven days, 6:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.