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Lining Up for Day-Old Bagels: Are You Nuts?

Rebecca Flint Marx | February 11, 2014 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

First, let me get this out of the way: I love Russ & Daughters without reservation. Until I moved from New York to San Francisco in November, I treated it as a cross between a general store and second home, even moving to the Lower East Side so I could more easily get my whitefish salad fix.

Having established that, I have to ask: good people of San Francisco, are you fucking nuts?

Because aside from clinical insanity, I can’t think of one good reason to have lined up for two hours, in the rain, to buy a Russ & Daughters bagel airmailed overnight from the mothership, paved over with cream cheese, and sold for six bucks. (Also: crispy kale, one of the reportedly available embellishments, has no business being anywhere near a bagel. This is the actual textbook definition of “abomination.” Well, that and selling a day-old bagel with cream cheese for $6.)

If Sonya Haines and Wes Rowe, the masterminds behind this weekend’s Eastside Bagels pop-up, had overnighted Russ & Daughters’ lox, then we could talk. Although even then, it’s easy enough to get Russ’ salmon shipped to you any day of the week. The cost of shipping may lay waste to your credit limit, but it would spare you the markup and accompanying loss of dignity.

But more to the point, no one goes to Russ & Daughters for the bagels. They’re merely a perfectly adequate vehicle for transporting sublime slices of fish to your gullet, and frankly, there are far better specimens to be found in New York. Bagels are not Russ & Daughters’ strong suit, but that’s okay, because no one really cares, aside from misguided tourists who fear any fish that doesn’t come in breaded, deep-fried stick form and want only a toasted, buttered bagel that bears a vague resemblance to breakfast pastry.

What I find more unnerving than people’s willingness to line up for day-old bagels is the fact that it happened here, in a city synonymous with both gastronomic savvy and an abundance of ingredients that make New York look like a wasteland of root vegetables and simple carbohydrates. You guys know better that this. Even lining up for a $4 slice of toast makes more sense, since that slice is: a) so thick it’s practically an open-face sandwich, and b) some damn fine toast. Lining up for bespoke foodstuffs is always a fraught proposition, but when it involves day-old bagels with an industrial-size carbon footprint, it’s just an exercise in cynical—if entertaining—imitation.

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