I had heard great things about this bagel place (Midtowners hail it as the best bagel in NYC) but had never visited it, mostly because it is much further away from my aunt's place than H&H Bagels. My aunt lives in the Upper West Side, so we invariably pick up bagels from H&H every time we stay with her.
This time, we were staying in Midtown, so there really was no excuse not to visit Ess-a-Bagel.
The first thing I noticed when we walked in was the amazing spread of bagel "accompaniments" that are available! This FAR trumps H&H, which just has some refrigerators along the wall with tubs of spreads.
Here, the deli counter is full of good stuff. Various smoked fish, different spreads, salads, cream cheese, etc. You can really make any kind of bagel sandwich you want, including fixings such as lettuce, onions, tomatoes and the like. This place is much more like a full service bagel sandwich shop, not just a bagelry that solely bakes bagels.
Since we would be enjoying a special lunch later in the day, we saved our appetite by sharing one sesame bagel "schmeared" with smoked whitefish, a very classic spread. Yum. The bagel was quite good. It was fresh, decently chewy, and the smoked whitefish was delicious. The bagels at Ess-a-Bagel are significantly smaller than the bagels at H&H, which is good for weight control but maybe not as much for your wallet.
In the end, we both agreed that we liked H&H better, but that might just be a personal preference issue. H&H bagels are chewier and denser, which is something we both love.
All the bagels are freshly made right on the premises. I snapped a picture of the huge vat in which they boil all the bagels.
Over all, it's a great place to get a bagel if you're in the neighborhood. There's a decent amount of seating (unlike H&H), so you can actually sit down, relax, and enjoy your bagel sandwich as you people watch. It's pretty fun to see the various types of people who stop by to get a bagel early in the morning.
I must confess, right before we left NYC, we took a special subway ride to the Upper West Side just to pick up two dozen H&H bagels to take home . .like always.
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