Bushwick man ranks over 200 bagel places in New York City

One Brooklyn man is on a mission to find, and rank, the best bagel places in New York City.
Unsplash/Rachel McDermott

One Brooklyn-based bagel aficionado spent more than a year trying to find the best bagel place in New York City.

Bushwick resident Mike Varley has patronized 202 bagel shops from across the five boroughs since first beginning on his 13-month journey, and has compiled their rankings into an interactive map displaying the locations with an icon grade and scores based on a five-point scale, as first reported by TimeOut.

According to Varley, 38, the best bagel place is Hot Bagels (P&C Bagels) at 7905 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village, Queens, earning a score of 4.75 out of 5. High-ranking Brooklyn bagel places include Olde Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe in Prospect Heights, Bagel Boy in Sheepshead Bay and Bagel Hole in Park Slope.

When conducting his taste tests, Varley would always order an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, which, according to Varley, served two functions.

“First, it operated as a means of controlled comparison,” he told Brooklyn Paper’s sister publication QNS. “Second, both options allow for creativity and variety in preparation while still being among the most popular order options.”

He splits his reviews into three categories: store, bagel and cream cheese. Additionally, Varley said he tried to identify what may be unique about each experience. His reviews typically take about an hour to write.

Varley described the project — dubbed “Everything is Everything” — as an offshoot of one he began in 2020 called Total Clarity when he and his wife walked in five marathons a week in a year for a total of 7,000 miles across the five boroughs of the city.

“Pretty early on I realized I had a unique opportunity to survey all that NYC bagels had to offer — both because I would be visiting every neighborhood and because I’d be burning the bagels off with a marathon a day,” Varley said.

He tried three bagels a week throughout Total Clarity before devoting another month to trying 50 more locations.

When it came to P&C Bagels, Varley said “the combination of unique store aesthetics, a great staff, the crusty toasty quality of the bagel and the freshness of the cream cheese with great scallion texture additions made [it] a winner.”
QNS reached out to P&C Bagels for comment and is waiting for a response.

Varley said he is already looking into adding more stores that he missed or may have opened up after the list. He said popular demand has been dictating which ones he has or intends to try.

According to Varley, the ideal bagel shop has a combination of “second nature intangibles and intimate familiarity with services offered.” Although he admits more established stores are usually at an advantage, more contemporary stores can certainly catch up with thoughtful intentions, customer engagement and flexibility to experiment with services.

“A ‘5’ bagel store represents the ultimate in presentation, product freshness, order management and bagel staff skill,” he said.

While Everything is Everything does provide detailed reviews, Varley emphasizes that the grading system for bagels is still subjective.

According to Varley, “the qualities of an elite bagel are peak freshness, a strong chew identity, compelling flavor and texture dialogue between topping and dough and its ability to enhance the applied spread via radiant heating, texture complement or otherwise.”

When it comes to cream cheese, the application plays a big role in deciding the score.

“Too little creates a persistent feeling of longing, too much is a logistical nightmare of spread management and bagel obfuscation,” Varley said. “Messy preparation can result in constant napkin grabbing that mars the experience.”

In addition to application amount and technique, other factors Varley considers when judging the cream cheese are viscosity, dairy perspective, scallion texture, scallion flavoring and interplay with the bagel.

Toppings aside, Varley says it’s important to keep in mind what he refers to as “The Ten Bagel Axioms:”

  1. Do not toast a bagel if you know it is hot or fresh.
  2. Toasting raises the floor of a bagel but lowers the ceiling.
  3. Bagels from appetizing stores are designed to be eaten with lox.
  4. Stores that put effort into their spread displays generally make good bagels.
  5. Higher trafficked stores beget frequently fresher bagels beget higher trafficked stores.
  6. While some bagels are worth waiting for, never underestimate the pleasure of a 30-second bagel transaction executed by a bagel store pro.
  7. Caraway seed is the best non-standard everything topping, and the least used.
  8. At their peak, bagels are the barbeque of breakfast: heavy, savory and almost too messy to bear.
  9. An irregularly shaped bagel will almost always taste better than a perfectly round bagel.
  10. If you can smell the bagels, you’re in the right place.

This story first appeared on QNS.