831 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
(212) 980-1010

Everyone in New York City lives right down the block from the best bagel place in the city. It doesn't matter what neighborhood you live in, your neighborhood has the best one. Ess-A-Bagel is one of those places. These days, my primo pick is Gotta Getta Bagel on Continental Avenue, but growing up it was Ess-A-Bagel. Why? Because they had a store right down the block. Obviously. And because it was damn good. Amongst my friends there was a debate (argument) over which bagel was better, an Ess-A-Bagel bagel or an H&H bagel. To this day, I've never knowingly had an H&H bagel. But to my credit, I don't remember participating in the argument.

Getting off the subway in midtown, I walk past Ess-A-Bagel every day. The lines alone are enough to keep me on the sidewalk. The first time I went into this one (as opposed to the one downtown) was during the recent, massive rainstorm that flooded out the subways citywide. I hopped on the LIRR and walked east from Penn Station and by the time I got even close to work, I figured that I was already so late that a few more minutes couldn't possibly matter. Even with the line shorter than the norm, it took a while. But in the end, it was definitely worth it.

Ess-A-Bagel has massive bagels. They're larger than the standard NYC bagel, and the standard NYC bagel, for those of you from out of town, make the supermarket/Lenders ones look like a free sample and taste like a rough draft. The variety of cream cheeses is where Ess-A-Bagel really stands out. Sure there's the standard regular and low-fat versions, along with the vegetarian, smoked salmon, and scallion varieties. And of course they have my favorite, the maple walnut. But they also have chocolate chip, which is like turning your breakfast into dessert. Spread some on a cinnamon-raisin bagel and you'll be on a sugar high lasting longer than your coffee's caffiene buzz. More on the coffee later. I recently tried their strawberry and blueberry cream cheeses and while the strawberry one was okay, the blueberry is the one I recommend. There are even a variety of tofu-based cream cheeses. I think it's somewhat sacreligious, but I'm far from the most pious guy in the pew.

Ess-A-Bagel also has lots of other deli-ish items. Lots. The list would be as long as my arm, but suffice it to say, chiken salads and egg salads are but the tip of the iceberg. Pickled tomatoes are thankfully buried under tons of ice and seawater.

But now the downsides: I already mentioned the line, which would put Six Flags to shame. But the service is slow. Add the two together and you'll find me down the block at Starbucks, which knows how to move its customers through. Like it or not, I have places to be that aren't on line. Additionally, and this is my own thing that no one need agree with, the everything bagel only has "everything" on one side. I like mine coated from head to toe in all that everything (the way Gotta Getta Bagel does it). And finally, the coffee. It's awful. When it's iced, you don't notice it. But when it's hot, man, it tastes like Maxwell House reject beans filtered through a sock.

I grew up down the street from the original Ess-A-Bagel on First Avenue. But the two locations are not clones. The midtown Ess-A-Bagel has plenty of space, albeit the wrought iron chairs weigh a ton and screech when you move them; the east 20s Ess-A-Bagel is tight. The midtown one is more lunch friendly; the east 20s one is, for all intents and purposes, breakfast only. The midtown one will toast your bagel. For some reason (I can only attribute a lack of counter space) the east 20s one won't.

Under four bucks for a huge bagel laden with cream cheese is one of the best values in Manhattan. It's not as healthy as a Pax salad next door, but it costs less than half the price.

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