Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys- Lower East Side, NYC

The Classic $12
An Everything bagel and a garlic bialy with smoked salmon, dill & parsley cream cheese, tomato, red onion & capers.

For the last 82 year’s Kossar’s have been using the same recipe to churn out their delicious baked goods. Originally founded in 1936 by two Russian immigrants, Isadore Mirsky and Morris Kossar. They established themselves in the Manhattan neighbourhood of the Lower East Side, a predominantly Jewish area due to the influx of Eastern Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th century. They set out to provide their compatriots with a taste of home, but also to offer Americans the chance to experience a part of their unique culture. 

The two men obviously figured out the winning equation, Kossar’s is the oldest running bialy bakery in the whole of the United States. However, despite their winning success, behind the scenes, they were involved in a bitter struggle with the ‘Bialy Bakers Association’. During a time when all bakers were fiercely loyal to their trade unions, for Kossar’s to leave and join another group, caused quite a stir. After a long revolt against the association, events came to a head on the evening of February 20th, 1958. An explosion ripped through the bakery at 145 Clinton Street, shattering all the windows and destroying part of the basement. No one was hurt and the police are said to have found a fifty-foot length wire running to a building two doors down. Although never officially confirmed, it was insinuated that the incident was a warning from the bakers association. Kossar’s reopened their new location two years later at 367 Grand Street, which is where they can be found today.

The LES is home to many food tours, especially on the weekends. Kossar’s is a major stop along the way but thankfully, the group of people stood on the sidewalk were already munching contentedly on their bagels and bialys. We savoured the fact that we could just stroll right in, without having to queue up outside on another chilly New York Sunday morning. Just because we didn’t have to queue outside, did not mean that we got away with not queuing inside. There was a continuous flow of customers coming and going. Pulling up in their cars, tying their dogs to the nearest benches. Behind the counter 3 workers moved purposefully around each other, flipping eggs, taking orders, smearing cream cheese on bronzed bagels. Through a large window on the right, freshly made bialys were all lined up ready to be baked, their indentations brimming with garlic, onions & olives.

Before embarking on this bagel blogging exploit, I had never heard of a bialy. When I first came across the word in my readings, I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it, let alone work out what it was. Even my partner Sahar, with his Jewish heritage, had never eaten one. His perception of a bialy was that it was “a bagel without the hole.” Which he’s not technically wrong about, but there is more to it than that. The major difference is the boiling process. Bagels are boiled before baking, which grants them their beautiful, picture perfect, glossy exterior. Not boiling the bialy dough results in a smaller, less showy, but no less delicious, cousin to the bagel. 

The everything bagels looked so superior, I couldn’t even consider anything else. I have been trying to branch out a little more in my bagel varieties, but I always end up regretting my decision in the end. How can you possibly beat the magic combination of; poppy & sesame seeds, onion & garlic flakes and pretzel salt? It’s just not possible, that’s why. Sahar chose a garlic bialy, all piled up with their stuffed middles, they looked out of this world. As for cream cheese, there wasn’t a huge list but there were some tantalizing choices using fresh herbs.

Having seen pictures online of the old shopfront of Kossar’s, I was a little disappointed to see how modern it turned out to be. The bright red exterior, the white subway tiles, the minimalist vibe. On the other hand, renovations speak of success. We managed to snag 2 of the 4 window seats facing out onto the wide avenue of Grand Street. Spending time in the residential neighbourhoods of Manhattan is one of my favourite things to do in the city. Not all of them are Greenwich Village pretty or are as refined as SoHo, but no one can deny that each area has it’s own unique personality and all the crazies that come along with it. Though Kossar’s is only 14 miles as the crow flies from our apartment, to get there by public transport took us a good hour. By car- forget it. The tunnels, the bridges, the tolls and the traffic are not worth the drama. Again, Sahar had been dragged into the city on a Sunday for the 3rd weekend in a row to go to museums and to get bagels. I sensed he was a bit frustrated with it all and the effort it takes, but when he took his first bite, you could see all that frustration melt away.

They were INCREDIBLE. I can’t even express how delicious the two ensembles were. Both the bagel and the bialy were outstanding. Though, the biggest surprise of all, was the dill & parsley cream cheese. People who know me well, know I have this weird thing about dairy products and that I scrap almost half the cream cheese off the bagel before digging in. This cream cheese I could of eaten with a spoon. It had so much flavour and the texture was like as soft as a cloud. If cream cheese could change lives, this would be the one.

To wrap up, I’d like to say how much I’ve enjoyed writing about Kossar’s and their turbulent history. There’s not many bagel places who can say that someone tried to blow them up! We haven’t been to many bagel places who have managed to get everything right, but Kossar’s is definitely one of them. This is absolutely on the favourite list, don’t miss it on your trip to NYC!

367 Grand Street, New York, NY, 10002