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.

THE +

  • 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

43 Comments

  • Add-ons are dangerous.
    Are smells free?

  • By the way – sausage, egg, and cheese on a cinnamon raisin bagel is the best way to have a breakfast sandwich. Raisins are neccessary to survival. Must have.

    Only flavored cream cheese neccessary is vegetable – and it must be put on an everything bagel. Lox already mixed in? C’mon – it’s not as good as having them separate. And if you’re going to have fruit with your cream cheese.. spread on some jam over plain, none of this strawberry/blueberry/whatever nonsense.

  • I’m not sure how the mere presence of strawberry cream cheese in the store can somehow negatively impact your bagel. I mean mozzarella cheese has no business on a cheese steak but just because the store offers it, isn’t going to make my correctly made cheeze-wiz covered steak sandwich taste bad.

  • Kippers

  • “I’ll have a sesame bagel, cream cheese, whitefish and a glop of mayo — on second thought, would you mix the fish and the mayo in the blender first before putting it on the bagel. Thanks.” pure smoked whitefish is SOOOO much better.

    i feel differently about tuna salad though.

  • I was an H and H guy… but low and behold, TAL BAGELS is now the place. If you haven’t had there FLAT BAGELS, then you should fake some sort of workplace injury, hop in a cab, and get over there. This is by far the best bagel in NYC… a perfect, thin and crunchy outside coasted with sesame, with a chewy center. Crazy.

  • And so should whitefish, onions, tomatoes, and capers. Not lettuce, though, as you shouldn’t be having lettuce on a bagel…

  • Zach, I could not agree with you more. I tolerate cinnamon raisin bagels because they’ve been around my whole life, but the others…blueberry bagels look moldy to me, and to be perfectly honest, if someone wants a breakfast that includes something round, with a hole in the middle, with blueberries, they should be eating a donut.

  • H&H is a crapfest. I haven’t tried Ess-a-bagel yet, so I’ll reserve judgment. If you want some real bagels though, I hate to tell you guys this, but they are actually 5 miles west of the GWB in Teaneck, NJ.

  • “By the way – sausage, egg, and cheese on a cinnamon raisin bagel is the best way to have a breakfast sandwich.”

    Again, may I say ew in regards to the mixed food items above? Sorry, but bacon, sausage and other pork products just DO NOT BELONG on a nice, Jewish bagel. No siree. Especially not a cinnamon raisin bagel (which I will only grudgingly allow.)

    Secondly, thank you Zach for expressing my personal sentiments about fruit-flavored cream cheese and bagels, which should not be allowed to exist. Bagel flavors should be limited to the following: plain, sesame, poppy, onion, egg. Occasionally pumpernickel. Rarely everything.

  • Whitefish salad isn’t $5.95, it’s $6.95. They charged you $1.50 extra for the extras.

    There’s a place on 2nd Ave a few blocks further uptown than Ess-a where you can get smoked salmon & cream cheese on a bagel for $6.50.

  • Also, I don’t know how kosher they are, given you can get a ham & cheese sandwich.

  • Sara. Don’t forget “salt” bagels.

    also, the bagels themselves are atheist, so i say top them as you see fit.

  • I meant to say whitefish above, not whitefish salad.

  • OK, fine, I’ll give you salt. They’re much better than the hot pretzels available on the street anyway.

  • Ess-a-Bagel isn’t the only place guilty of this. I would say that roughly 90% of the bagel shops in this city have absoluetly no indication of exactly how much anything costs. My bagel shop in the EV is no different – want cream cheese? It’s extra, but not the same extra cost as the difference between a plain bagel and one with cream cheese. It’s mind-boggling and it seems arbitrary at best.

  • zack- You talkin Hot Bagels on Teaneck Road?

  • If you are ever on the upper west side (definitely not midtown lunch area), you can get a bagel with lox and cream cheese for I think $5.95 at Zabars. It is pre-made, but still quite delicious as they are done daily, and one of the best bargains I can think of. They also do whitefish salad and a roll for like $4.50 or so . . . .so yummy . . .

  • I couldn’t disagree more with the recommendation of the Zabar’s pre-made special. As far as I know, they only offer plain bagels with cream cheese and lox already shmeared on. Then they refrigerate the whole thing! The fastest way to make a fresh bagel go to crap is to refrigerate it.

    It’s more effort, but if you can buy a bagel of your choice from H&H 30 feet away from Zabar’s, then go to Zabar’s, buy just enough cream cheese for one bagel, and have them weigh whatever amount of lox you want and then top your H&H bagel with it — now that’s something to write home about.

  • Zach & Vishal –you are both right the best bagels, always fresh and made the way a bagel should be is at Teaneck road hot bagels 976 teaneck road right off rte. 4

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