Sake Gumi
For Umamiventure #15, I opened up the polls to UM readers to vote for our next food trip. Between Astoria for merguez sandwiches, Jackson Heights for tacos and a food crawl in the Lower East Side, the LES won in a landslide.

While it was commented by a few that it was a "safe" choice between the three, I think that everyone who showed up would agree that it was an insanely awesome afternoon of walking and cheap eating through a neighborhood that has rapidly gentrified in the last 10 years. This crawl was a tribute to the small Mom-and-Pop shops that have been around since before all the ridiculousness that has moved in (that ugly ass blue building on Norfolk that I blame entirely for killing the music venue Tonic), but are still holdin' it down.

Henceforth coined the Loisaida Throwback Crawl, 25 of us (whoa- our biggest group ever!) walked around for SEVEN pitstops within a ten block radius. HOLLA! I'll be posting all the stops daily- here's our first, the famous Kossar's Bialys.

The inside was super spacious, and was the perfect place for all of us to meet up. It's a very sparce, with an open kitchen, the bialys stacked up on wire and wood shelving and a refrigerator stocked with various bialy condiments.

The owner was working the cash register and was kind enough to give us a little history lesson of the bialy and Kossar's. Been around for nearly 70 years, Kossar's is definitely an LES institution. It's been handed around from owner to owner, and while he said that it isn't as crowded as it used to be, it was a zoo by 11:30am when we were there.

Kossar's makes both bialys and bagels, and are well-known for both. The main difference between the two is that bagels are boiled, then baked, while bialys go straight into the oven. Also, bialys always have ground onions.

Here's what their website has to say: "We put just as much care into our bagels as we do our bialys. We hand roll the bagels using the finest ingredients available. Rather than substituting cheaper brown sugar, which eliminates any old-fashioned flavor and texture, we use real malt to bring authenticity back to the bagel. We allow the bagel to proof slowly over a 24-hour period and then we kettle boil each bagel prior to the final baking."

They hand roll everything, which is so wonderful. The ovens are super old-school and they are proud that they use "little automation."

I think we were all super curious about their onion disc. Here's the large one, which was only $2!

Small onion disc with whitefish salad for spreading.

The disc was a bit dry, but nice and crusty. Paystyle says, "Good. I’m not an expert so I can’t say more than that, though I did enjoy the bialys," which I have to agree with.

Michelle's bagel:

Alright, that's it for Kossar's. Stay tuned for our next stop: The Donut Plant!!

UPDATE- Todd just emailed me with his in-depth thoughts on Kossar's and bagels. Here it is:
Bialys are in my experience a bit dry--and they are never as tough or chewy as a bagel of equivalent quality.  I sometimes eat fresh bagels plain as is, like a piece of bread--I don't do that with bialys, too dry.  My speculation is that boiling is not the only difference, I think/suspect that bialys are made with lower gluten flour than bagels.  That also makes sense given that most bagel places do not make bialys, if they used the same dough I believe many more bagel stores would make bialys.

I myself like Kossar's onion disc/Pletzel better than their bialys, less dry I think and they can be eaten plain.  Or maybe its because Pletzels are really hard to get, so I see them as a special treat.  Kossar's bialys are very good.  I found a web link about pletzels that you might find interesting.

I didn't think much of the spreads at Kossar's, very standard commercial stuff.  I think the best spreads are probably the ones from Zabar's.

In terms of good places to get bagels, Murray's is good, there are two of them, one on 6th ave and 12th street and the other on 8th avenue and 22nd or so, it seems like they now have separate ownership, need to check them out.  I like Absolute Bagel at 107th and Broadway, quite a few people like their bagels. Absolute is run by a Thai family, and apparently so are several other bagel places in NYC.

A good bagel should be fairly small, with a noticeable hole, a hardish outer crust and a chewy inside, its supposed to be quite chewy.  My orthodontist feared them, bagels were a forbidden food, chewing one can apparently pull off your braces.  Traditionally, they were not a based for sandwiches, they were eaten with butter or cream cheese and perhaps lox with cream cheese, onion and tomato.  When they get bigger and more roll like and are used for sandwiches, a traditionalist would say that they are not a bagel.

Check out all previous Umamiventures here. Thanks to Christy, Michelle, Jill and Jessie for the pictures.