Column Date 2009-06-16
If you think we have problems with drugs, wait 'til you hear about bagels.
The back story: you can't get a good bagel down in Florida. No way, no how. No matter what any of your friends say, New York bagels are still the gold standard.
It may be the uniqueness of New York water, as some claim, or something special in the Manhattan air, or the skill of unknown bagel boilers laboring in obscurity in the boroughs. (A sad sign of our times: there are no awards given out for the best bagel of the year. There is, however, a "Golden Bagel" award, but it's given to the professional male tennis player who has handed out more "bagels" [sets won 6-0] than any other player on the circuit.)
There are strange things passed off as bagels in other parts of the country, but we won't dwell on that here. Partly because it's pointless getting into an argument about the etymology of bagels with someone from Topeka who loves his strawberry or cinnamon crunch "bagels".
So what do you do in Florida when you're dying for an authentic New York bagel – say one from Murray's or H&H?
You call Bennie, in Hell's Kitchen. (All names are fictitious, to protect the identity of our sources.)
Bennie has family on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And his "bagel mules" will deliver several dozen H&H, Murray's or even Ess-a-Bagel bagels to you every week at an agreed upon dropping off point in Florida (either coast).
The carefully selected bagels come down on JetBlue every Friday afternoon, hand-carried in plain suitcases. Discreet couriers then rendezvous with their customers.
Why all the secrecy?
Well, to be honest, Bennie and his customers simply don't trust the Great State of Florida.
This is the state, remember, where the mayor of one small town banned Satan. She issued a proclamation saying "Satan is hereby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens".
It's the state where the city of Palm Bay recently tried to ban everything that said "Made In China" on it. (Think about that for a minute.)
So there's no telling what some Florida state official would think when confronted with a Murray's hand-rolled, poppyseed bagel. ("Sir, why does this bread roll have a hole in the middle?" "Exactly what sort of donut is this, Ma'am?")
But I think the best reason to smuggle bagels into Florida is summed up by this story from 1933:
When they opened the RCA building in New York, General David Sarnoff, the Chairman of RCA, was asked why the new building, the citadel of modern radio and television broadcasting, had no 13th floor.
'We're not superstitious, of course," he said. "But why take chances?"
When it comes to New York bagels, I agree.
©2009 Peter Tannen