At Murray’s Bagels in New York City, you can choose from 20 varieties of cream cheese, 10 different kinds of salmon, lettuce, tomato, onion, capers, you name it. You can have a plain bagel, cinnamon raisin bagel, wholewheat everything bagel, whatever.
And now, you can even get your bagel toasted.
Murray’s, considered one of the best bagel shops in America’s bagel capital, had for 19 years maintained a strict no-toasting policy. There wasn’t even a toaster on the premises. The ban quickly entered New York lore, a stubborn and hotly debated quirk in a city full of them.
“The no-toasting thing has created a little mystique at Murray’s,” the store’s owner, Adam Pomerantz, said years ago.
A famed competitor, H&H Bagels, also refused to toast. H&H itself was toast by 2011. (US president Barack Obama recently called the shop’s closure “shocking” and said he used to order their poppy seed bagel with “your basic schmear.” He didn’t comment on the toasting policy.)Purists say toasting is for stale bread, not freshly boiled bagels.
Purists, of course, loved the bans. Toasting is for reviving stale or otherwise inferior bread, they argued, but singeing a freshly boiled bagel—a good one, anyway—simply ruins its chewy texture and starchy taste.
Customers, who queue out the door for bagels on pleasant weekends, were not all in agreement with the toasting ban at Murray’s. Regulars learned not to question it and cautioned dining companions not to ask, but the shop’s online reviews are full of indignance over the policy—like this one on Yelp: “Does it occur to anyone at Murray’s that people may simply enjoy the textural quality? The taste of a little char? The warmth that gives the cream cheese an extra yummy, melty quality?”
In fact, it had occurred to management, which recently rearranged the shop to improve its service. The bagel business in New York remains fiercely competitive, and Murray’s dominance over the scene has been threatened by new entrants like Black Seed Bagels, which hawks a Montreal-style bagel finished in a wood-fired oven.
And so, with no fanfare in June, modest conveyor toasters were installed behind the counter at the flagship store in Greenwich Village and a sister shop in Chelsea. “Murray’s Bagels will now toast,” began a tweet heralding the new era:
Although we still firmly believe that a hand-rolled, kettle-boiled, fresh Murray’s Bagel is superb, our customer’s satisfaction is paramount to us. We will now toast bagels upon request and hope that everyone will enjoy New York’s best bagels any way they choose.
On a recent weekend morning, the store was packed with customers as usual. They ordered sandwiches stuffed with smoked fish. Some asked for their bagels to be toasted and were indulged; their orders made a trip through the conveyor belt. One customer requested that the innards of her bagel be scooped out prior to the application of a tofu-based spread. And that was fine, too.