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Washingtonians have a special kind of inferiority complex when it comes to bagels. If it’s not from New York or Montreal, many don’t even consider it a “real” bagel. Whether they blame it on the water or the way they’re rolled, D.C. restaurants have shunned the mostly commercially produced rounds available locally in favor of those shipped from hundreds of miles away. DGS Delicatessen imports its bagels from famed Montreal bagelry St-Viateur, while Buffalo & Bergen in Union Market buys dough from A&S Bagels, a family-run wholesaler and retailer in Long Island.
To D.C.’s rescue: Bullfrog Bagels. The bagel-making operation from former Tabard Inn general manager Jeremiah Cohen first popped up over the summer at Cork Market, where people formed an actual line down the block to try the New York-style, slow-fermented, hand-rolled, and boiled bagels (plus bialys). Cohen could barely keep up with the overwhelming demand. He’s since opened a more permanent location inside Star & Shamrock on H Street NE.
Others have also tried this year to bring D.C. a decent bagel, including part-time caterer Wesley Tahsir-Rodriguez, who founded Schmear Bagels, and Bread Furst’s Mark Furstenberg, who makes Montreal-style bagels that maintain a proper hole rather than a navel.
But really, the quest for a great District-made bagel is nothing new. Bethesda Bagels owner Steve Fleishman opened his business in 1982 for the same reason others cite today: You couldn’t get a decent bagel in D.C. While he uses an extruder at his Gaithersburg wholesale factory, the staff hand-rolls the bagels at his Bethesda and Dupont shops the old-fashioned way.
Ultimately, it may not matter how objectively delicious any of these local goods are. People will always claim the “best” bagels are in New York in the same way the “best” cheesesteaks are in Philadelphia.
“It’s hard to compete with nostalgia, and I think anyone who tries to get into a serious bagel business here, they’re going to be confronted with that early on,” said former DGS Delicatessen chef Barry Koslow, now at Pinea. “But if it’s a good product, it’s a good product, and people will pay for it.”