Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Finally Available in Oakland: An Authentic Bialy

By Luke Tsai
Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Connoisseurs might differ in their opinion on which of the Bay Area’s new crop of artisan bagel shops is best, but this much is indisputable: Up until a few weeks ago, it was nearly impossible to get a hold of a respectable bialy — that lesser known, mostly unheralded cousin of the bagel — in the East Bay.

Fortunately, Beauty’s Bagel Shop (3838 Telegraph Ave.) has rectified that situation: For the past several weekends, the shop has been selling small batches of bialys, and I’m happy to report that they’re as tasty and as authentic a version as I’ve had out here on the West Coast.

Bialys at Beautys Bagel Shop (via Facebook).
  • Bialys at Beauty's Bagel Shop (via Facebook).
Just what is a bialy, you ask? Like bagels, bialys are a round, chewy bread product of Polish-Jewish origin, and they’re often sold at bagel shops. But otherwise they’re a completely different animal: Unlike bagels, bialys aren’t boiled first before baking, so the result is a product that’s flatter and less dense — more delicate, when prepared properly. There is no hole in the middle of a bialy, just a slight indentation where — and this is key — there’s a generous pile of diced-and-sautéed onions and poppy seeds.

At risk of sounding like a heretic, I have to admit that when I was growing up in New Jersey (that underrated bagel mecca) it was the bialys that most captured my imagination — still warm, slathered with an unconscionable amount of butter, and as oniony as you’d ever want any breakfast item to be.

The problem is that most bagel shops around these parts don’t make bialys at all — or if they do, they’re just second-rate bagels cloaked in a bialy’s “onion-strewn clothing,” as one recent Food Republic article put it.

Beauty’s co-owner Amy Remsen told me that she got her bialy recipe from her friends at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen in San Francisco, who in turn got it from a baker in Los Angeles. According to Remsen, the recipe is as simple as can be — just flour, water, yeast, and salt. But the trick is in the execution. Remsen said she only tweaked the recipe to make her bialys a little smaller and puffier — less crispy than the Wise Sons version.

I’ve tried the bialys at both Wise Sons and Beauty’s, albeit never back to back so as to do any kind of nuanced comparison. But I’ll confirm that the two versions are very similar and very good — again, the best I’ve had since I moved to the Bay Area.

For now, Beauty’s is offering bialys on Saturdays and Sundays only — Remsen makes about forty each day but says she can easily scale that up if there’s enough demand. The bialys are priced at $1.50 each — same as the Beauty’s bagels — and you can substitute them for the bagels in any of the various bagel sandwiches that the shop has on the menu.

Or for $2.25, you can have a bialy as Remsen likes to eat them: topped only with butter and a little bit of sea salt.

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