Fine Bagels Goes to America Part IV: Rosenfeld’s Bagels

If you’ve kept up with installments I-III of Fine Bagels Goes to America, you might have noticed a hole in our eating. Or, rather, a lack thereof. The trip involved so many deli sandwiches. So many pickles. Such an unreasonable amount of chopped liver. All this and yet…no bagels. Whilst in America, shouldn’t we have been hitting up bagel shops with the same sort of compulsion we wander suburban Targets? No, reader. No. We’ve said it before. If there was a Rosenfeld’s Bagels in Berlin, we never would have had to start making our own bagels. And so, when Fine Bagels went to America, there was only one stop for bagels. One stop, oft repeated. So now, a treat: the bagel portion of Fine Bagels  Goes to America. In which we try to keep our cool around a true bagel master. DSC_1421Rosenfeld’s was opened in 1973 in Newton Centre and to this day, there is still just the one location where everything is baked on-site, open Wednesdays through Sundays.  Most of the place is bakery, packed with equipment and ovens, and the rest is a small storefront with the essentials: cream cheese fridge, bagel display, and piles of challah, babka, and coffee rings. In case there was any doubt, these are proper NY-style water-boiled bagels. (“Montreal bagels are hideous. No salt. No taste at all.”)DSC_1370DSC_1390Mike, the guy who runs the place, was good enough to indulge our super fandom and went out of his way to take us around the bakery, explaining everything from equipment to ingredients. Mike started working at Rosenfeld’s in 1988 on the week of Thanksgiving. His first day was a rainy one and when it rained back in those days, the stairwell behind the bakery would flood. Result being that his first job at the bakery was bailing water with a coffee cup. (Mike took us back there to show us). But he figured it wasn’t as bad as construction work so he stayed with it, planning to stick around 6 months. Nearly thirty years later, after working his way into every aspect of the business and process, he takes care of the whole baking operation.

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Now, here is where we think it’s important to clarify. Mike doesn’t just manage the place, but also one of the four bakers. He has his hands in the dough every day and is constantly modifying, adjusting, and improving. He fiddles with water temperatures, dough saturation, yeasts, and braiding techniques. Anything to get a better bagel. A more perfect loaf of challah. As Mike himself says, “One of the funnest aspects is that it’s never exactly right. There’s always room for improvement.” The point we’re trying to make is that this is no laissez-faire way of running a bakery. Mike cares about what he does. DSC_1420Mike’s keeping things old-fashioned, in the best way possible. The place is something of a modern reflection of the old immigrant-run basement-level bagel bakeries of the Lower East Side where the bagel developed into what it is today (or rather, what, under ideal circumstances, the bagel is today). DSC_0988 (1)And when we say modern reflection…well…Mike says, “I like that you can come here and it’s still like 1975.” Which is fantastic. Because we at Fine Bagels hate change. Particularly with the aesthetics of a beloved institution.

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Rosenfeld’s Bagels in the ’70s.

Mike told us that if we wanted to know about the kind of place Rosenfeld’s was back in the day, this video captures the essence of both the kind of place and the kind of guys who were making the bagels. And indeed, it was well worth the watching, if only to hear spoken the line,”These people in the Midwest wouldn’t know a bagel from a doughnut. Only reason they ever saw a bagel was one fell off a truck.”

Despite it’s ubiquity, the bagel took a quality downturn in the late twentieth century. Us at Fine Bagels were largely sheltered from The Great Bagel Crap-ization. We come from a coddling and protective family. In our bubble of privelege, we assumed all bagels were on par with a toasted Rosenfeld’s onion bagel lathered thick in vegetable cream cheese. But all the while, this was a bad era for the bagel. As Mike says, “What the bagel became in the 1990’s was a big soft sweet hamburger bun with a hole in it. And that’s not what a bagel is.” Oh yes. YES. Thank you, Mike. We’re going to adapt that phrase, substituting “the 1990’s” for “Berlin,” translate it to German, and shout it aggressively from the front step of Fine Bagels. DSC_1394DSC_1397DSC_1407Rosenfeld’s makes thousands of bagels a day and the most popular flavor is plain, followed by everything and sesame. They’ve got all the good flavors…garlic, onion, salt, egg, pumpernickel, caraway…even the unicorn that is a a potato bagel. We visited on St. Patrick’s day. For those of you anthropologically unfamiliar with Boston, the holiday is observed primarily by adding green food coloring to otherwise ordinary objects. Rosenfeld’s did not disappoint.

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Note the green bagels behind the hamantaschen.

DSC_1413Rosenfeld’s doesn’t just make great bagels, they make the best challah we’ve ever eaten. Ever. When we were in college in Medford, we’d take the Green Line, that disfunctional little trolley, all the way across the city just to get a loaf. This challah habit of ours culminated in the great challah binge of 2002, which we’re torn between never speaking of again or saving for an overshare. We were excited to discover that it was Mike himself who brought challah-baking to Rosenfeld’s. Now we know who to blame for those extra five pounds we could never seem to lose until the day we moved out of Boston.DSC_1409DSC_1393DSC_1417DSC_1381Before we left, we asked Mike why Rosenfeld’s bagels are the best we’ve ever had. His answer was simple. “Process. Skill. You can get a bagel anywhere, but you can’t get that anywhere.”

In case it didn’t come across by now, we walked away impressed. These bagels, we’ve known them our whole life and yet never knew anything about them. And sometimes, when you dig into these things, you’re putting that pedestal you built at risk for a crash. Heck, we half expected to be let down. After all, adulthood is full of disappointments. (Family motto on both sides). That’s why finding out that our favorite bagel place is really, truly, keepin’ it real, it meant a lot. There was no disappointment this day. As Mike said to us, “You have to do this to do this.” So almost thirty years in, he’s there on his day off counting cream cheese containers.DSC_1422

 

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Fine Bagels Goes to America Part III: On the New England Half-Moon

We’ve addressed the half-moon vs black and white cookie distinction before. Ultimately, it’s a simple matter of butter cream vs icing and any confusion between the two cookies doesn’t reflect well on the consumer. The same cookie-eater who can’t tell these two apart is probably also the type of simple creature prone to believing in old wives’ tales,  peanut butter allergies, and astrology. (Are you a little slown to understand the difference? Read more here) Below is a perfect, indigenous, New England Half-Moon.DSC_1118

Fine Bagels goes to America Part II: What We Ate

Few are the good bagels in Germany. Rare is the decent sandwich. Scant are the cans of cream soda. And never are the pickles half sour. All this can lead to some pretty hefty nostalgia for the kale-fringed deli plates of our youth. Oh, those halcyon days when the inedible garnish was just that. Last time we saw kale used appropriately was in an Edible Arrangement. What we at Fine Bagels like best about nostalgia is our tendency to grossly self-deceive about the actual quality of whatever it was we were eating back then. Here’s an example: So our memories lie and tell us that American deli pumpernickel is a really nice strong rye and we go and order our sandwich on it and when we taste it we’re pretty sure it’s Wonderbread with a tan. Like, that pumpernickel is so far from the closest caraway seed, it might as well be baguette. We should have to specify we want it seeded? So you see how we inflate things and get disappointed? Lucky for you, dear reader, the certainty of things not-living-up-to-one’s-expectations couldn’t stop our Boston eating tour of 2016. Ambivalence is the womb which nourishes the deepest complaining and a good complain is always a silver lining. Old Fine Family saying. Remember that. DSC_1024With Melissa at Johnny’s in Newton Center.

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DSC_1061That’s a half sour with the reuben. It had no snap.DSC_1096And this is a bucket of kosher dills in Mansfield, MA.DSC_1114If Red Sox slugger Ted Williams drinks it, so will we. There is a regional soda in every part of the world that tastes of root beer, off-brand cola, and toothpaste.picklsThis is exactly the right amount of half sours. Here we’re double fisting with a potato knish at S&S in Cambridge. We should have worn a different bra with that shirt.DSC_1148Chopped liver. The pate of the shtetl.DSC_1144That knish was microwaved.

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Representing at Charlie’s deli in our hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts.DSC_1257Beware the last item on the smoked fish menu. Nana Fine will tell you: Fancy or not, lox tidbits is code for the dregs.DSC_1249DSC_1256DSC_1250DSC_1244DSC_1246We’ve written to the Dr. Brown’s company and they aren’t gonna ship to us in Europe. So we resent them now. Bitterly.DSC_1241Here is where Becca gives her opinion of our egg salad sandwich. Becca has been giving us her opinion since the day we met her in the sixth grade. In those days, she sported a sassy Susan Sontag dye job, which, to this day, we’ve never seen its equal DSC_1236“Are you my grandmother or something?”-Becca’s opinion. (That’s another half sour. It was the snappiest)DSC_1239Jamie sees nothing wrong with an egg salad sandwich.DSC_1253Not visible: More half sours and a tub of cold kasha varnishkes. We still don’t really get kasha varnishkes. It’s not that they’re bad but rather a waste of stomach real estate. They’re just kinda meh.DSC_1251To belabor the point, this is but one of the many things you can eat that’s better than kasha varnishkes.

Fine Bagels goes to America Part I: The Fines

Fievel_MousekewitzWe of Fine Bagels took our first vacation since opening three years ago. Because it would be unforgiveable to the Fine Family should we spend that vacation somewhere sandy and warm, we spent March in Boston. To make the Atlantic crossing old-school, we traveled in a vaguely modernized steerage known as the “world traveler” class of British Airways. There we enjoyed a dainty chocolate pudding cup, a movie about dying a cold, cold death on Mount Everest, three and a half xanax tablets, two diet gin and tonics, and a conversation with a seat mate about the ins and outs of organizing leather parties around the world which, incidentally, involves many of the same day-to-day management quandries as running a bagel bakery.DSC_1275Three generations of Fine ladies: (left to right) Emily, Laurel, Helen. Almost immediately upon arrival, the Fine matriarchs got down to business and informed us that the list of inherited Fine health troubles we can anticipate as we age has increased from mere lactose intolerance, intellectual arrogance, malignant moles, high cholesterol, New England Brown bear attacks, cavities, wasted youth, affected and inexplicable Southern accents, and severe attacks of the nerves to include, most recently, glaucoma and a wheat allergy. That matter settled, we eat.DSC_1332Nana Fine broke out the family recipe box. DSC_1326Fine Family bagel eating circa 1975.DSC_1336DSC_1347Our first encounter with the Heimlich was spurred by our greed for Nana Fine’s stuffed cabbage. Make it yourself and discover how life-affirming choking can be.DSC_1338Then treat yourself to Al Fine’s Sweet’n’Low Scotch Sour.

Customer Style: Nina

Nina is a Warschauerstrasse local. That means that she’s our neighbor. She’s so much our neighbor that she often gets her espresso in her own little espresso cup from home. Nina is a musician and an artist and a queen.DSC_0858 (2)Recently, Nina stopped by to shoot a short film story as part of her artists’ residency with new Berlin-based online magazine The Wild Word, set up by Kusi Okamura.

We asked Nina about the project she’s working on.

Nina: Well, I am exploring something and I am not yet entirely sure. The idea of comfort vs luxury, physical reality vs thoughts or mindset, the well-offs vs the underdogs. Queenie of the West spreading her magic of evil blindness. Choices of every day.DSC_0868 (1)They were shooting on what Nina describes as “a usb flip HD video camera with a crappy lense” and in addition to Fine Bagels, they shot on the S-bahn, the U-bahn, the Warschauer Brücke, and several Berlin streets. The finished film will be available to view here.DSC_0840 (2)Because Nina doesn’t just present an incredible visual on filming days, we wanted to ask her more about her wardrobe and aesthetic sense.

Fine Bagels: You have amazing pieces in your wardrobe.

Nina: Thank you, I actually have very few clothes.

Fine Bagels:…and it seems like you’re always one step away from costume, though costume seems inaccurate, as the word to us says disguise, and you’re certainly not disguised. Mainly just you have some wonderful theatrical pieces so we would imagine that it is as easy for you to compose a queenly outfit as it is for us to compose one of those horrendous all-black-Berlin-in-winter outfits. So what’s our question…did you just pull this together?

Nina: Yes, it is my normal snow coat. I only ever take it out around Christmas or when it is snowing. The crown of stars, I have worn at a concert in The Mansion House, Dublin, in the room where the First Dáil of Ireland was declared for an independent republic in 1919. The idea for the crown came from a photo Laurie Legrand, an artist friend of mine, sent me. I asked Laurie to make me one. The original one was really too much of a work of art to wear on my head all of the time. It was quite heavy. So I asked an amazing headwear designer/dj/counselor, Glamo Fowney, if she could make one and this is the result. And the rabbit just keeps popping up. He jumps in to my bag as I am leaving home.

Fine Bagels: In general, do you integrate performance clothes into your daily life?

Nina: No not really. It’s a mood thing. Sometimes I am very boring but then it kind of happens without me noticing. Most of the time, I dress subconsciously. I often dress my children to match me without realizing it until later in the day. Other times, I picture my outfit before I wear it.

I seem to have an accidental flamboyance so sometimes I purposely dress blandly when going, for instance, to a parents meeting or somewhere I really don’t want to stand out.

Fine Bagels: Is the line sharp or blurry?

Nina: It depends on the day. Sunday’s tend to be sharp. Thursday’s are a little blurry.

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“The rabbit just keeps popping up. He jumps in to my bag as I am leaving home.”

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Challah French Toast Sunday Part IV

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In the Fine Family, we all call challah chall-ee. We haven’t got a friggin’ clue why we say that. Here you can listen to Gertrude Cooper Klemens (our Great-Nana) talking baking and saying chall-ee. When we were young and still called challah chall-ee, Nana Fine used to get pan loaves of chall-ee sliced thin at the bakery and, if we were good, which we always were, she’d spread them thick with spicy brown mustard and fold the slice in half for a sandwich.  We’d peel off the shiny brown top crust because that was the bad part. (see: Fine Family Aquired Tastes)

When we got older, we had a boyfriend who made fun of us for saying chall-ee instead of challah. We felt stupid and since he went to M.I.T. and was in AEPi (just imagine), we figured he was right. So we changed our ways and years later, saying chall-ee instead of challah feels unnatural. And we’re a little sad about that. 

We guess all we’re trying to get at is that Holla! Challah French Toast Sunday Part IV is up again. Sunday, February 27th 9:00-15:00.frenchtoast

Customer Style: Pepper

At Fine Bagels, we’re morning people. Rather, we have to be morning people. Comes with the territory. We understand that in Berlin, people go out. A girl once asked us if we “go out.” We asked what she meant. “Like, really go out.” We still weren’t sure what she meant but making an educated guess from the snippets of morning after recounts on which we eavesdrop from the coffee station, we’re pretty sure she meant something involving leather, techno, 6am, Crisco, and shouting. So we guess we don’t really go out. On Sunday mornings though, we get a lot of people in the store who really went out. They usually look a lot better than we do after 8 full hours and a shower. Case in point: Pepper.DSC_0905 (1)Pepper’s background is in theater but now her focus is on photography and filmmaking. She’s making a film about queer nightlife and club kids in New York. While Pepper was living in New York to work on the film, she stayed up all night going from one club to another. Poor Pepper was so busy pursuing her nocturnal work that she didn’t eat a single bagel in New York. A shanda, Pepper, a shanda.DSC_0897 (1)One of the things we like about Pepper is she’s polite.DSC_0900 (1)And has a terrific coat. DSC_0910 (1)You can check out Pepper’s website and instagram @pepperlevain. It’s worth your time.