On the walls of Leo’s Bagels in lower Manhattan, is a proud declaration of “bagels with chutzpah”. It is accurate and appropriately bold.
One of the my favorite aspects of New York bageldom is the sheer amount of schmear innovation. It feels like I come across a new flavor every other bagel journey. From the smokey, chipotle schmear at Brooklyn Bagels (in Chelsea) to the kalamata olive at Leo’s, to say nothing of the widespread presence of vegan options, I find the inventiveness delightful. The strong, diverse demand speaks to how much bagels have been inculcated into New York culture. And it keeps us frequent bagel noshers entertained and excited.
I went to Leo’s on a Sunday, and the bagels were strongly opinionated and well crafted. After much deliberation with the nice purveyor behind the counter, I got a toasted salt bagel with kalamata olive schmear.
The large, dark olive bits speckled the white schmear and provided a salty contrast to the sweet cheese. The texture was a bit thick, but maintained its grip on the toasted bagel. I was concerned that a salty schmear atop a salty bagel would prove to be too much, but I was pleasantly proven wrong. I should’ve known better. There’s almost no such thing as too much salt.
The sheer billow and size of the bread evoked a classic New York approach. The texture of the crust was near perfectly crunchy and the salt topping was clearly placed by an experienced hand. Even the bottom of the bagel had evidence of a hand rolled nosh, with small ears nested in a crack that ran across the surface.
Leo’s bagels were quite tasty, but are not in my preferred style. The hole (or lack thereof) was more bialy than bagel and the bagel height provided an obstacle to easy eating. Even though it isn’t among my favorites I can appreciate a well intentioned, classic New York bagel.