But Are They Really Bagels?

Michael Edelstein has a passion, and his passion is bagels. The window of his 35-year-old storefront bakery in Queens, N.Y., Bagel Oasis, declares, with typical New York modesty, "We're not good by accident. We're the best on purpose."

Edelstein and his staff of 20 bakers turn out 4,000 to 5,000 dozen hand-formed bagels a week--about what Kraft Foods Inc. produces just warming up the ovens. But don't bother stopping by Oasis for a chocolate chip bagel or a sun-dried tomato bagel. "It's a circle. You can put cheese on it," he says of such New Age interlopers. "But it's not a bagel."

PURE AND SIMPLE. Oasis bagels are made with only five ingredients: flour, malt, salt, yeast, and water, all mixed together in a 90-year-old taffy machine that can handle 800 pounds of dough at a time. Bakers cut long strips from giant blocks of dough, roll the strips into tubes, cut them to size, and with a flip of the wrist form them into bagels. After rising, the bagels are boiled in a giant cauldron of water, fished out, drained, and baked on wooden slabs in a 60-year-old oven.

Sounds simple, but to a connoisseur such as Edelstein, there are a thousand ways to bungle a bagel, from low-quality flour (a problem in recent years) to added sugar (a desecration never allowed at Oasis) to hiding quality flaws with extra ingredients such as oil (that's not a bagel, either). The perfect bagel, says Edelstein, is crisp on the outside and light on the inside.

So what does Edelstein think of the bagel chains spreading this East Coast ethnic offering throughout the heartland? "Did bagels reach the rest of the country," he asks, "or did white bread with holes in it reach the rest of the country?"

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.