Downstate students unsatisfied with Buffalo bagels, hope for authentic bakery near campus
Over 400 miles separate New York City and Long Island students from one of their go-to food options: bagels. While the breakfast-bread product is available in Buffalo, students from downstate do not consider them on par with the bagels from home.
Campus Dining & Shops offers students a number of bagel-outlets like Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Perks and Wrap It Up. But if students are looking for a bagel bakery, they need to go off campus.
“Buffalo bagels are generally squishier than Long Island bagels and are doughier,” said Andrea Oaks, a senior civil engineering major. “It’s not a big concern, but it is a bummer when all you want is a really good bagel.”
Maria Balinska, the author of “The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread,” said the definition of a good bagel is in the eye of the consumer.
“In my experience, talking to lots of different people about their bagel preferences, it’s very often the bagels they had as children set the standard for them,” Balinska said.
She said bagel preferences can come from the consumer’s home region or place of residence. For example, when Balinska lived in London, she said she fell in love with their smaller-sized bagels compared to New York.
On the cooking side, Balinska said she thinks a good bagel has to be boiled, baked and risen in a cold environment.
“What happens then is you get these lactic acids that are created and it gives it a certain sweet, sour bite,” Balinska said. “It needs to have a denser dough than regular bread. That combined with boiling and baking the bagel, plus the water-to-flour proportion, means it’s a much denser bread. It’s a chewier bread.”
Jessica Lewis, a sophomore exercise major, said bagels in Long Island are good because of the water, which also makes the best dough for pizza.
“That’s pretty much the urban legend that everyone knows,” Lewis said. “But it could also be the fact that decades ago, so many first generation [Jewish people] came to Long Island, so we have authentic bagels being made.”
Bryan Felitto, a third year pharmacy student, said he eats three to four bagels a week, although Buffalo’s bagels aren’t the same as bagels back home in New York City.
“There is a noticeable difference in taste and quality,” Felitto said. “The bagels around here aren’t necessarily bad, but to me there isn’t much that sets them apart from just a very doughy bread, especially when toasted.”
Jay Gershberg, founder of Buffalo-favorite bagel joint Bagel Jay’s, said students who think they can’t find New York-style bagels in Buffalo are greatly mistaken.
“I started Bagel Brothers [here] in 1976 and I grew up in the Bronx. I’m proud to say we still use the New York recipe,” Gershberg said. “I put our bagel up against any New York bagel. We just use the old-fashioned recipe.”
Gershberg said when he and his brother started making bagels in Buffalo, they served students at UB and SUNY Buffalo State. Gershberg said those students grew up on “the real thing” whereas today, there’s a lot of compromise to the bagel recipe.
By the time Gershberg helped start Bagel Brothers, he said he couldn’t find other bagels like his own. Gershberg said he thinks New Yorkers sometimes feel they have the best of everything and they’re not willing to try new things.
Lewis said her friends from Long Island and the New York area aren’t fond of Buffalo’s bagels, and she hasn’t tried a Buffalo bagel but would be interested in a New York-style bakery closer to UB.
Matt Cosmai, a senior communication major, said he thinks a New York-style bakery near campus or in the Commons would be convenient for students.
“I like the bagels at home because they’re super fresh. They just taste better,” said Cosmai, a student from Staten Island. “[If there was a bakery closer to campus], I would definitely go if I had some downtime.”
Balinska said bagel bakeries, even in 19th century Eastern Europe, were meeting places and marriage venues.
“I think that could be a cool social hub if some entrepreneurial person wants to open up a bagel bakery near UB’s campus.”