Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Correct Bagel (again, with feeling)

Growing up, I would often end up in a restaurant with my dad, and he would tell me, "This is the right thing to order here." My most specific memory was on Oxford Road in Atlanta, right next to the main entrance to Emory. There was a sandwich shop there. I think it was in that building with the silly top; the one that's been a Dominoes and a million other things. I don't know if it's still there or not.

Anyway, he said that I should order turkey and cole slaw with Russian Dressing on Rye. He said that was the right thing to order, and the people working there would know I knew something about sandwiches. I remember feeling like a little bit of a badass ordering that. I was probably in the range of 12 years old.

So today, on AskMetafilter (a site I adore), someone is asking about good bagels in London. And someone posted this comment:
Correct bagel types:
  • Plain
  • Sesame
  • Poppy
  • Salt
  • Onion
  • Everything
  • Cinnamon Raisin
Incorrect bagel types:
  • Sun-dried tomato
  • Blueberry
  • Jalapeno
  • Pesto
  • Anything not listed under "Correct bagel types"
Another person pointed out the obvious exclusion of Garlic, another important bagel flavor.

Does it make me a snob that I am *so* with this person on this point?

I grew up eating bagels at The Royal Bagel at Ansley Mall in Atlanta, GA. It was owned by a Jewish woman from New York named Rose and her husband. It was there my whole life, and I have never had a bagel that good since.

Over time, The Royal Bagel became a fascinating cultural institution. It was where people in my neighborhood went on weekend mornings. It was a Jewish place, and because of its location, it was a gay place (for gay men, not gay women... that was Decatur).

I remember that over the years, the employees changed from being my friend Molly's two older sisters (kind of a family atmosphere) to a really hopping gay Mecca, with a full expansion into the next shop's space. The guys working there at the end of its royal reign wore t-shirts that said something like "Bagels fit for a Queen." Excellent! And Rose was always still around. She probably didn't know me, but I knew her.

The bagel flavors there were the ones mentioned in the correct list (including garlic), and the cream cheese flavors were plain and lox. It was perfect. There was no way to perfect that combination.

The Royal Bagel isn't there anymore. Instead, there's an Einstein's up the hill. It's a sad replacement, and yet, when in Atlanta, that's kind of where we end up... trying to reclaim those wonderful bagel moments of the past.

By the way, I'm not the only one who remembers the Royal Bagel. And here's another description from Creative Loafing, the local Atlanta rag:
Royal Bagel -- Now that bagel franchises blanket the city, it's tough to imagine loyal customers driving halfway across town to line up at this small Ansley Mall bakery that was among the first to offer the breakfast staple when it opened in 1974. Hung on until 1997.
The take-home message? Shop locally, and order the correct bagels... PLEASE! No wheat, no blueberry chocolate chip, no walnut spread, no bagel pizzas, and no bagel sandwiches with lettuce and turkey and other wrong things. Please, people. It's not snobbery. It's being cultured!!
Update: I'm reposting this hoping that the comments will miraculously work. If you wanted to post before but couldn't, try again.