Not all bagels are created equal.
Some people fear carbs like the plague, leading them to say that the Jewish deli is all but a memory. Fear not! Carbs and delis are abundant in the North and Northwest Chicago suburbs. While they may not be your Bubbe’s deli of Devon Ave., they are vibrant, evolving, and crowded, all serving and baking the carb above all others—the bagel.
There are plenty of bagel spots in cities with big Jewish populations, and you can be certain that we here in Chicago have a variety of options, flavors, sizes, and shapes for men, women, children, old and young. Heck, there are pet stores baking bagel shaped treats for your kosher dog as well, but I digress…
One winter day when my kids were home, hungry, and bored, I galvanized the troops and suggested we do a North Shore bagel crawl. We created rating criteria based on the continuous selection of (a) a poppy seed with cream cheese, (b) an “everything” seasoned bagel, and (c) a wildcard, which was whatever the non-traditional style bagel my kids chose. Each kid took pictures of the bagels and wrote their opinions. We also limited our bagel selection to one bakery per suburb, and mapped our bagel trek from west to east.
So let’s begin!
1. Once Upon A Bagel – Highland Park
They are innovating the bagel concept in Highland Park. Aside from the sit-down, family-friendly restaurant serving up deli staples as well as Mexican fare, they sell “skinny bagels” which are about a third less of the middle bagel, cleverly delivering less carbs with all the bagel goodness. Very crowded lunch with moms and kids as well as grown ups of all ages with a hankering for corned beef and soup.
-The kids didn’t think the poppy seed was dense enough and it seemed almost “challah-esque.
-There was a good amount of poppy seed and “all season” spices.
-Our wildcard was a chocolate ball bagel, which was flakey and more yeasty and bread-like. It’s definitely more of a dessert bagel.
-Their baked goods, such as cookies and pastries, are supplied by Leonard’s Bakery in Northbrook.
2. Upper Crust Bagels – Deerfield
It’s a walk-in deli with small tables and chairs for small groups. College kids home for break were hanging out, but it was more carry-out than dine in. Some featured items include bagel dogs and mini-sized bagels.
-We selected poppy seed, “supreme,” and chocolate chip bagels to taste.
-The kids liked the bagel density of all three bagels, but the cream cheese-to-bagel ratio was a bit excessive. Some of the toppings fell off the poppy seed and supreme bagels, but the flavor was good. The kids liked the strong salt flavor of the “supreme” bagel.
-The chocolate chip bagel flavor was subtle—less “desserty” than Once Upon A Bagel’s.
3. Original Bagel and Bialy – Buffalo Grove
This full menu deli was crowded and kid-friendly with booths and tables. They bake their own cookies and pastries and even had hamentaschen available. (I will leave the hamentaschen crawl for another time.)
-We ordered poppy seed, “everything,” and chocolate chip.
-There were not enough poppy seeds on the bagel, but the cream cheese ratio was not overpowering, with good balance.
-The everything bagel had the same fluffiness and good variety of savory toppings, but a little too much salt.
-Chocolate chip bagel was like cake or challah. Thick and doughy. Good chip ratio without being too sweet.
4. Max and Benny’s – Northbrook
A full service restaurant with additional deli items. Frozen soups and mini bagels also available. They bake their own pastries and cookies, too.
-Of all bagels thus sampled, these were the largest and airiest. Very fluffy and the outside of the bagel was too soft.
-The poppy seed bagel had a good cream cheese-to-bagel ratio that was not overpowering, but the kids would have preferred more poppy seeds.
-The everything bagel also needed more savory topping.
-The “wildcard” here was a cinnamon-raisin crunch. The kids would have preferred more cinnamon and raisins. Chewy and heavy, but since this was a sweet bagel, they didn’t love it.
5. Kaufman’s Delicatessen – Skokie
Full deli and bakery. It was crowded at 3 p.m. with people eating and standing in line at the deli. Pickles and green tomatoes in barrels. Large variety of packaged deli-gourmet items. They also ship their deli goodness.
-This was the smallest bagel size, but more dense than previous bagels. The kids preferred this size. Maybe they were getting full?
-They served too much cream cheese on the poppy seed bagel and the poppy seeds fell off quickly, but the taste was excellent.
-The all-season bagel was flavored very well.
-Our wildcard, the blueberry bagel, was dense, but the kids liked that the blueberries were ground into the dough and not kept whole. They also liked that it was more purple than brown. Go figure.
6. New York Bagel and Bialy – Lincolnwood
Open 24 hours a day, and there were people in the late afternoon buying prepared salads and bagels. Deli and bakery only. No dine in. Baked goods supplied by Leonard’s Bakery in Northbrook.
-The poppy seed bagel was nicely covered and dense. Good outer crunch and soft inside. Good cream cheese ratio. Not too overpowering.
-“Mish-mosh” bagel again had good density and outer crunch.
-Cinnamon raisin bagel was good, but needed more of those flavors. The kids liked the density and overall size.
All of these bagel establishments have been in business for many, many years, and it is a comfort to know that whatever your personal location, flavor, or density preference is, bagels are readily available without having to schlep too far from home! I would also like to give a special shout out to Leonard’s Bakery in Northbrook for supplying the bakery scene at multiple bagel locations. Along with my family’s yearly pre-Purim order of hamantaschen, you cannot find better kosher for Passover desserts in Chicago than from Leonard’s.
Ultimately, my kids chose New York Bagel and Bialy as the 2016 Bagel Crawl Winner. They prefer a dense bagel with an outside crunch and soft inside. As one kid said, how can you not pick a place where you can access a bagel 24 hours a day?