Just in time for the dawn of the year 5780, the Houston Jewish community has some good news. But really, anyone craving a bagel that will remind them of New York is bound to be pretty happy.
"My whole goal is to offer the customer the best that's out there," says Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen owner Ziggy Gruber. That means the highest quality brisket for corned beef, top-flight fish for the lox, and now, bagels that are making guests "ecstatic."
Gruber walked into Barry Shapiro's Sugar Land store, Bagel Express, six weeks ago. Not only was Gruber impressed with the quality of the product, but also, he and Shapiro hit it off. They ended up chatting for four-and-a-half hours. They now speak four or five times a day. "He's a hamisheh character, I'm a hamisheh character," Gruber reasons, using the Yiddish word for "homey."
Kenny & Ziggy's has been open for 20 years, Bagel Express for 27. What took the pair so long? Gruber says he was happy with his bagel supplier for a long time, but the quality was plummeting. Enter Shapiro. "We always heard how good the product was," Gruber says.
The bagel man's family entered the business in 1871, back in Russia, Shapiro says. They closed the shop in 1911 when they set off for the New World. When his brother-in-law suggested that he leave New York to help him open Bagel Express in Sugar Land, it was an ancestral pull that led him to leave his corporate job and invest $300,000 of his own money. But he was determined not only to make the business a success, but create the best bagels he could. That meant apprenticing at a shop in Belleville, New Jersey. Yet his passion for experimentation, often to the tune of 80 or 90 hours a week, quickly meant that he surpassed his teachers.
His secret? Never sticking to the recipe. "It's not about the water, it's all about the know-how," he says. His bagels are the ideal texture because he uses higher-gluten flour than what is typically available on the market. Most bagel shops have stopped using malt. He uses the highest quality. And you definitely won't see a steam oven at Bagel Express—Shapiro boils his bagels, then bakes them.
The result is soft but chewy, with an ultra-thin jacket of crispness when fresh out of the oven. But even when they're not hot, they'll make you think of what you ate back up north—or wished you did. Throw some of Gruber's Nova lox on there and it's like adding a layer of smoked silk.
Bagels come with every egg dish at Kenny & Ziggy's but also play a central role in the Smoked Bagelwiches section of the menu. Each of the four sandwiches combines bagel and lox in a creative way, whether it's the crispy onion strings, Sriracha and eel sauce of the Ori-Yentl, or the scallion cream cheese, tomato, avocado, and jalapeños of the Mexicatessen.
Bagels are also available to-go on Saturday and Sunday for $10-a-dozen and can be delivered nationwide through Goldbelly. For a limited time, for every half pound of sliced fish you buy, Gruber will throw in half a dozen bagels for free.
It's a mitzvah timed perfectly to ring in a new decade, but bagel fans will be noshing well beyond the first days of the New Year.