Ess a Bagel and the Ultimate Case of “That’s how they getcha!”

Growing up in a Jewish family meant bagels and lox were always served on special occasions.  Break the fast and special Sunday mornings visiting Grandma always made exciting events, if for no other reason than the appearance of bagels and a giant platter of smoked fish.  Even funerals were an event to get a little excited about.  Sure, somebody died- but isn’t this pickled herring delicious?  I don’t really celebrate the holidays that often anymore, but I have not lost my appreciation for a nice bagel with cream cheese, onion, lox and white fish.

Unfortunately, the one drawback to this food (and the thing that makes it difficult in the context of Midtown Lunch’ing) is the price.  Smoked fish is expensive.  It’s tough to get a bagel with lox or whitefish in this city for under $10, which made the “discovery” of Ess a Bagel all the more exciting.  I say “discovery” because Ess a Bagel is not exactly a hidden gem.  When people argue about the best bagels in New York City, it will almost always come up, and while their original location is on 21st & 1st Ave., they have a second location on 3rd Ave. & 50th.  Or as I like to call it Midtown Lunch East.

What they’ve got, bagel porn, the +/- and exactly how they “got me”, after the jump…

Ess a Bagel has got everything you could ever want in a bagel place (and a few things you don’t).  The bagels are made on premise, steaming up the plastic shelves that hold them, and they have a wide selection of smoked fish, and salads to top off your bagel.  They also have a not quite natural size selection of cream cheese, but I don’t know if I consider that a +.  Blueberry, Strawberry & Apple/Cinnamon are words that should never appear in front of “Cream Cheese”, especially in any self respecting deli in New York City.  South Miami, maybe.  But New York?  I’m sure they are delicious (why wouldn‘t they be?),  but it’s just not right.  Raisin walnut?  Come on now.  It’s bad enough they started putting raisins and blueberries in bagels.  Do we really need them in the creamed cheese?

I’m also not a big fan of the bagel sandwich.  It throws off the whole bagel to topping ratio.  Bagels should be eaten open faced, each side topped with cream cheese, smoked fish and whatever else you like.  Eating this way allows you to enjoy twice the amount of fish, and it’s not overpowered by the double shot of bagel.  Bagel sandwiches are for the same kind of people who like their pastrami sandwiches on white bread.  It’s an abomination of nature.  Although, I do understand that it is lunch time, and a lot of people need to take their lunch to go.  Platters are offered, but they are more expensive, and I understand the sandwich is much more convenient for Midtown Lunch’ing purposes.  I’ll let it slide this time, but if I see you doing that at your Grandma’s house it’s not going to fly.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on to Ess a Bagel.  The good.  Bagels are quality, and cooked fresh.  The bad, neon colored cream cheese.  Now, onto the price.  I was excited about Ess a Bagel, because there were a few smoked fish options that fell well within the boundaries of Midtown Lunch’ing.  I want a bagel with lox or white fish, but I don’t want to pay $10 or more for it, and while I don’t mind the cream cheese with lox mixed in, it’s a cop out- and if I could find the real thing, I wouldn‘t have to settle. 

Ess a Bagel offered me just that.  The Nova or Lox w/ Cream Cheese bagel was $7.45.  Still an expensive lunch, but well within the bounds of Midtown Lunch, and better than what you usually get for an $8 sandwich in Midtown.  But that wasn‘t good enough for me.  I was drawn to a different item on the menu.  White fish sandwich.  $5.95.  Jackpot!  We have a winner.  Not whitefish salad, but whitefish- and a whole $1.50 cheaper than the smoked salmon.  Very exciting, and immediately ordered it.  That’s when the shennanigans began.

Me: “Do I get cream cheese with that?”  (Because after all, what’s a bagel without cream cheese)

Guy behind the counter: “You can get whatever you want.”

Me: “Great.  I’ll take cream cheese”

Guy behind the counter: “You want the works?”

Me: “What’s the works?”

Guy behind the counter: “Onion, tomato, capers.”

Me: “Sure, sounds great!”

A few minutes later, my creation comes out- cost to me, $8.45.  What happened to $5.95???  We were cruising.  I was excited.  And now, my lunch is $8.45?  How did that happen?  The cashier kindly explained.  The extras.  Tomato.  Extra.  Cream Cheese.  Extra.  Capers.  Extra.  (Onions, I think were free- thankfully).  All in all, $2.50 extra for things that rightfully belong on a bagel (I don’t remember saying I wanted lettuce, but I’m pretty sure I got charged for it.)

Alright Ess a Bagel.  You win.  You got me.  I was fooled.  I should have read the fine print.  I should have looked closer to the part of the menu that said “Things that you would expect to be on the bagel, free of charge, will cost you extra money.”  But here’s the thing.  There is no part of that on the menu.  Nowhere did it say that tomato is extra.  Or capers.  Or even the freakin cream cheese.  Who is going to order a whitefish sandwich on a bagel without cream cheese.  The guy behind the counter could have told me, but I guess he was too busy.  They could have put it on the menu, but they didn‘t.

And that ladies and gentleman, is how they getcha.


  • Arguably some of the best bagels in New York City
  • Everything you could ever want from a real New York bagel place.  Nova, Lox, Whitefish, Sable, Pickled Herring… the list goes on and on.
  • If you know what to order, and are careful, the prices are not terrible.  You just have to know what you are getting into.

THE – (What someone who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • I live around the corner from the H&H Bagel Factory, where they make the bagels for the rest of the city.  From a pure bagel standpoint, you can’t find a better bagel in New York than the one that comes fresh out of the oven from the H&H on 46th & 12 Ave.
  • No self respecting bagel place should have fruit flavored cream cheeses.
  • The pricing structure is not written anywhere on the menu, so it is very difficult to gauge exactly how much you are going to pay for your lunch
  • They have various “salad” sandwiches but the only bread is bagels… so if you are looking for an Egg Salad sandwich on rye, you are out of luck.

Ess a Bagel, 831 3rd. Ave. (btw. 50+51st), 212-980-1010


  • I could soo go for a raisin walnut cream cheese cinnamon raisin bagel! Nice looking sandwich, but anything on a bagel is still breakfast in my mind, and then I’d have to buy more food.

  • Midtown lunch aka Zach. You crack me up. I do not appreciate your put down of South Miami. As a boy raised in South Miami you got your best “free” white fish, cream cheese without raisins and nuts I might add, and learned to like all the good stuff you are describing. And since it was free it could certainly fit into your midtown lunch “under $10″ budget.

    Mom. What did I tell you about posting comments to the site? Please stop. -zach

  • It’s outside of Midtown Lunch range, but at Zabar’s you can get a pre-made bagel sandwich with cream cheese and lox for I believe $3.50. The bagels aren’t fresh out of the oven but they’re still very good and the lox are excellent. Only thing missing is a piece of tomato, but it is still an incredible deal.

    And I disagree on the bagel sandwich hating. If you are going to have a sandwich, why not have it on a bagel. I eat my lox and cream cheese bagels sandwich-style too – it helps keep the whole thing together better.

  • If the lox looks fresh, Pax is not too bad for lox and tomato on a bagel. 37th and 7th is the only one I reccomend though.

  • Zack, I’m totally backing you up on your bagel and cream cheese parameters. Even Cinnamon Raisin *bagels* are a step to far for me. And the only thing I think should be mixed into cream cheese is scallion. Mmmmm. No strawberry/blueberry/boysenberry crap.

  • how could you not like a bagel sandwich? you say that you don’t like them because they aren’t eaten open faced? well, from the look of your white fish bagel above that looks like a freakin sandwich to me.

    I am not a fan of the Bagel Sandwich… but I made it clear that for Midtown Lunch’ing purposes I understand that it is necessary. a) for price (“Platters” are almost always over $10 because they give you more fish when you eat your bagel open faced) and b) for convenience of taking your food to go during lunchtime. -zach

  • Is Nancy refering to herself or Zach in the 3rd person?

    Remember Hymen Roth…..this is where miami bagels lost it.

  • *drool* I am just now starting to appreciate lox, having disliked smoked salmon for a long time (not realizing I had some bad nasty slimy kind in the past). Yumm… and while I do enjoy strawberry cream chese from Carnegie Bagel or wahtever the place is called across from Carnegie Hall, it’s so dessert like that the thought of that in the morning makes me gag.

  • Zach, cream cheese with inclusions is certainly nothing new. My mother would occasionally buy cream cheese with cherries in it or chives. This was more than 60 years ago. I still remember going shopping with her to a little dairy store on Flatbush Avenue, just South of Clarkson Avenue, where they had all sorts of filled cream cheese and many other delights. Those were the days when you bought REAL lox (salted salmon) rather than the smoked salmon of today.


  • First off, I had great bagels growing up in Miami (Broadway Bagels in West Kendall, anyone?).

    Despite being outside my boundaries, I’ll definitely check this out some time soon because it’s not all that often to find actual white fish as opposed to just the spread/salad.

    That said, wf spread is damn good, so if anyone knows of any options closer to Bryant Park area, by all means. I’m spoiled by living a block away from Hot Bagels on Montague in BK Heights which has some of the best hand rolled bagels around, and their wf spread is top notch. Haven’t missed a Sunday bagel yet with wf/lox since I moved to the neighborhood.

  • I’m no expert on pricing of bagels but if lox was listed as lox with cream cheese and whitefish was listed as just whitefish then you should have figured something was up. Then your second clue was when he asked you if you wanted “the works.” Anything referred to as “the works” will not come free. You’re lucky you got out of there under $10.

  • The issue *I* have with bagel sandwiches is that when you bite down on them the contents usually squirt out the other side.

  • too bad russ & daughters isn’t in the ‘hood. i’d eat there everyday.

  • Zabar’s (and possibly other establishements) sells horseradish-bacon cream cheese. You must have her.

  • Horseradish-bacon cream cheese — mercy me. She will be mine! Oh, yes — she will be mine. (Open-faced and un-toasted because only an old bagel needs to be toasted, damn it!)

  • Hi All,
    Can you all reccommend your favorite steakhouse in Manhattan. Price does not matter.

  • A: You might want to check chowhound for such a question.

  • Matt, I have but still undecided.
    Right now I’m thinking Keens, Del Frisco’s or Striphouse.

  • A:
    120 W. Broadway
    (Duane St.)
    Manhattan, NY

    That’s me…being helpful.

  • I’m a little creeped out here. I realized it had gotten to be 3:45pm, and I had not checked in to ML today. As the page was loading I thought about my Ess-A-Bagel breakfast this morning and wondered to myself “Would Zach ever write up Ess-A-Bagel?” And wouldn’t you f’n know it? There it was. That’s scary.

    Anyways – the prices are ridic. I haven’t had a bagel in ages, but I can tell you it did not cost me $2.60 for a bagel with cream cheese last time I had one. Yes – these are some pretty damn good bagels, however to be charged almost $3 for a bagel and a container of creamcheese of which I used not even HALF because I don’t like equal proportions of cream cheese to bagel (that’s disgusting).. is ridiculous. Get off your high horse Ess-A-Bagel ,and drop your prices by not drowning my bagel in cream cheese. Would you put that much whitefish on? I think not.. because you know you’d be losing profit. More whitefish, less cream cheese, lower prices.

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