"Though I grew up with Dunkin' Donuts as my weekend snack, these days I’m more likely to hanker for a bagel."
Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of goyem, I will fear no lack of bagels, for thou foodie gods art with me. I figure if I repeat this mantra enough, it’ll eventually stick, but the truth is I’m pretty down on the lack of good Jewish eats in Chicago. Though we have a sizable metro population, only about 30 percent of the total Jewish population lives in the city proper.
There wasn’t always a local diaspora. In the mid 1800s, a significant number of immigrant Jews lived in the central loop, Pilsen, and the famed Maxwell Street Market area. While today it is primarily a Latino street market, it once gave rise to the Florsheim and Spiegel empires. But as was the norm, growing anti-Semitism forced many Jewish families toward the edges of the city, and in the early 20th century many of them (including the famed writer Saul Bellow) settled on the far west side, like in Humboldt Park, and on the far north shore in Rogers Park. Following WWII, the relative affluence accrued through multiple generations of settlements and the desire for single-family homes pushed the Jewish population even farther into the suburbs—like Skokie, Lincolnwood, and Buffalo Grove—where most reside today.
The good news is that most of these suburbs are city-bordering. Even if you can’t find a ton of great Jewish food (outside of Manny’s or Ashkenaz, and some might say 11 City Diner), you don’t have to go too far—though sometimes it’s just far enough—to find some.
And though I am a goy, I do hunger for good deli, and though I grew up with Dunkin' Donuts as my weekend snack, these days I’m more likely to hanker for a bagel. Mind you, I won’t settle for just any dreck. But I’m also lazy, and so I make the drive up north maybe only a few times a year. And while doing it, I was pretty satisfied with the deckle and smoky rich chopped liver from Kaufmann’s in Skokie and the bagels from Chaim’s across the street. But, last year Chaim’s closed.
Unlike New York or Montreal, there is not a bagel stand on every corner in Chicagoland. With Chaim’s gone, all you could really do is stand around and wait, hope that maybe some long-lost baker left only with pockets full of flour would want to make his wallet or his heart (through the joy of feeding others great tradition) full again. At least that’s what I thought. But the whole time, right down the street, New York Bagel and Bialy had been going strong for 20 years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Those who know claim they’ve never seen it closed. Somehow I never made it in until recently.
If I’m completely honest, NYBB does not have the lightness of St. Viateur bagel (Montreal) or the heft of an H&H (NYC), but it is the best local example of the form. The onion version, featuring caramelized golden bits that gloriously perfume the paper bags that hold them, and the blood-pressure-threatening (not to mention drug-test-monkeywrenching) salt and poppy are my favorites.
These little dough wheels stand up to the highest pile of pastrami, and the creamiest of NYBB house cream cheeses. And after a couple of bites, and with this new discovery in hand, at least for me, the “shadow” recedes just a bit.
New York Bagel and Bialy
4714 W. Touhy, Lincolnwood IL 60712 (map)