While Montreal and New York are only separated by a six-hour drive, there has never been a rivalry between the two cities. Montrealers seldom direct the sort of visceral hatred they feel for Torontonians southward, toward the United States. And New Yorkers tend only to consider Montreal when they hear Kaytranada. Even then, though, Canada’s second-largest metropolis is but a blip on their brains.
Still, there are some areas where the cities clash, certain arguments that may never be resolved, like that of the bagel.
“There’s obviously a technical difference” between how Montreal and New York bagels are made, says Noah Bernamoff, the Canadian-born owner of New York’s Mile End Delicatessen. “But there’s also maybe the culture of how bagels are used and how they’re treated by customers and what customers kind of seek at the bagel store.”
In short, Montreal bagels are produced with honey instead of malt. They contain no salt, and are always hand rolled—"like, religiously speaking," Bernamoff says. They are also boiled in honey water rather than simply water or, for that matter, water with malt in it. And they’re always baked in a wood-burning oven, a point of pride among Montrealers.
New York bagels, by contrast, are less reliant on high-gluten flour. Instead, they’re often made with bread flour. They also contain salt, leading to, yes, a saltier taste. Their bakers tend toward barley malt rather than honey, diminishing their sweetness. And though New York bagels were long rolled by hand, this is rarely the case today, with the wholesalers that supply the bulk of the city’s grocery stores and delis delivering machine-made substitutes.
"There’s obviously a technical difference, but there’s also maybe the culture of how bagels are used, how they’re treated by customers, and what customers kind of seek at the bagel store."
“A machine is not in and of itself a terrible thing, but it doesn’t have the same texture,” Bernamoff says.
They’re then boiled and baked in a gas-powered rotating oven, spinning horizontally, as though they were in a rotisserie.
Superficially, New York bagels are bigger, with flat bottoms and smaller holes, which means they lend themselves more readily to the sorts of bagel sandwiches traditionalists would scoff at—like a BLT bagel. Montreal bagels are smaller and have larger holes; the seeds on them are also more heavily distributed. They can handle cream cheese and a few slices of lox, but not much else.
The real question, however, is: Can this couple handle each other? Gemma, a New Yorker, met Lucas, a Montrealer, when she attended school at McGill. Improbable though it may seem, they bridged their vast cultural divide and signed a marriage certificate in 2013.
Still, despite their union, the bagel debate shows no sign of abating in the Wisenthal-Horowitz household. And in the last two years, since they moved from Montreal to Queens, it’s only intensified.
With that in mind, we asked them to make their cases for why their respective cities have the best bagels on earth.