9:07AM. 3rd and 51st – Ess-a-Bagel matches, in building appearance, the man behind its own cash register. It needs a good scrub, but it has a good-natured vibe despite the grime. There’s cardboard blocking out a broken front window. Posters are printed from what looks like Word ’08. Curbside pickup is advertised with a Ferrari. If it weren’t for the line out the door, the place’d be easy to overlook. Don’t. And don’t let the line intimidate. Your focus needs to rest on attaining a bagel that’s worth its kosher salt.
Ess-a-Bagel is packed most times of the day, especially in the morning, and frighteningly so on Fridays and weekends. It’s a mix of tourists that heard it’s the best bagel in the city and locals who deal with the crowds because it’s that good. The decor is a stubborn bagel shop that won’t change its ways for nobody. It has been around since 1976, is firm in its Austrian roots, and hand rolls all bagels. The order is: a scooped and toasted everything bagel with nova, scallion cream cheese, tomato and red onion. If you don’t want toasted because “New York doesn’t toast bagels”, that’s fine; lose the crunch, deal with excess absorption. For me, I toast, and every bite — salty on the outside, savory lox and cream cheese, bit of brine with the capers — is savored.