If you’ve ever been to a bagel joint in New Jersey, you kind of know what you’re in for. It’s not a… mellow experience. In fact, for the uninitiated, it can be downright nerve-racking. Count Hot Bagels Abroad amongst the worst. A smallish box of a place with absolutely no internal line-managing apparatus, it’s like one of those rush hour Japanese commuter trains. But with egg sandwiches.
I exaggerate, of course. But only a little. The thing is, this is what you must suffer for a decent bagel. You must watch the poor workers run around behind the counter, in and out of the open kitchen, grabbing Jersey pig meat off the grill. Sprinting past the giant bagel ovens. Asking over and over again, “Salt, pepper, ketchup?” If you are a fragile person, I would go to one of the other, less insane bagel establishments in town. There are at least a couple over in Verona and one or two in Montclair where you can leisurely stroll up to the counter and order a pumpernickel or an everything with whatever kind of gross flavored cream cheese you want. But they will be inferior product.
Hot Bagels Abroad is either the cousin or the half-brother, or even maybe the shadowy doppelgänger of the same-named bagel restaurant in Bloomfield. Now, that version of the store is actually on Broad Street… So I have to assume that was the original (and mimics this version’s insanity), but in some ways perhaps the student has surpassed the master. Or Cained the Abel. I don’t exactly know the history, but it’s Jersey so of course it stems from some beef about something. Why else have two bagel shops with the same exact name only a few miles apart? One of which makes sense and the other that just seems vindictive. Because theoretically this one should be called Hot Bagels Avalley? Nonsense.
But family intrigue and long lines aside, it all comes down to the bagels. And these are really good. You don’t really realize this until you get away from it. I visit my folks out in Southern California and the “bagels” might as well be round dog biscuits with a hole in the middle. You hit up a Bruegger’s or even some mom and pop shop in, say, Arizona and you get the equivalent of a McDonald’s burger. Which is, in name, a burger. And can even be good and consistent in the way a fried McDonald’s burger can be. But it’s still not really a burger the way a Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern is a burger. Or, hell, even the way a Bareburger burger is a burger. I won’t go as far as to say the bagels here are the equivalent of what to many is the best $38 hamburger on Earth, but they are definitely a cut above most, if not all, bagels in the area. Which means, by default, that they are a cut above most, if not all, bagels in the country. Because NY/NJ bagels are the king. And, look, I don’t want to crap on other bagel makers just trying to make their way in the bagel world — like my childhood joint, Bagel Nosh (Santa Monica), and their enormous baked rings — but they are all imitators as far as I’m concerned. This is the real deal: warm, chewy and non-bready. You’ll know when you bring your out-of-town guests an over-fresh bowl of their bagels and hype them to the moon. They’ll ooh. They’ll ahh. Because this is the real Jersey.