Local is best

I love eating in New York because there is so much diversity of good food all so conveniently located. Even if you are on a budget, there is no reason to eat badly in this culinary metropolis. I love LA dining for the same reason, and I have a difficult time finding food in NY that I cannot find the equivalent of back home in the City of Angels. Bagels are the one thing I’ve found without match. In recent years, there have been NY-style bagel shops that have opened claiming water filtration systems, ovens, and all manner of gimmicks to match the classic NY bagel, but none have done it. And the most embarrassing part is that in NY the bagel shop is a neighborhood institution – everybody has a good one just around the corner.

All this means that every time I visit the in-laws in Queens, I must stop by the local bagel shop, Bagelette, for the best bagels I’ve ever had. You walk into this modest storefront off of Queens Blvd and you’re greeted with the smell of fresh coffee while a line of hungry locals are chatting it up with the proprietor and his staff, often in Yiddish. The deli case boasts overflowing tureens of house-mixed smears, and their Kosher certification is proudly showcased at the center of the counter. In one corner is a small pastry case that goes mostly ignored, and behind the counter are baskets of the glorious gluten bombs.

I have a regular order here, a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with cinnamon raisin smear. The bagel is a beautiful sworl of tanned bread and dark cinnamon streaks that would make a cinnamon bun jealous. The exterior is a perfect crisp, something I’ve never found in LA – just enough that you can hear it as you bite, but not enough to be dry or leave shards in your mouth. What’s also impressive is that the texture transitions seamlessly into the chewy interior. This isn’t a bread-like crust layer that could be peeled off. It’s a perfect integral part of the bagel. That leaves us with the smear – a veritable mountain is sandwiched into the bagel, ensuring there isn’t a single bite that isn’t oozing with creamy cinnamon goodness. Raisins and large chunks of walnut provide bursts of texture and flavor in every morsel.

The best part? There’s just enough of a walk between Baglette and the subway so that I can scarf one down every time I head off to the R train to catch a jazz concert in Times Square.

Shake it baby

Admittedly, I have a bit of an axe to grind.  After years of drooling, the famous New York-based Shake Shack finally opened an LA location where the lines are insane. Naturally they waited until after literally selling out with an IPO. While they were small and still private, they had a Dubai location, but snubbed LA. So when there are two locations inside malls walking distance from each other near my inlaws on Queens Boulevard, I feel like the LA wait was maliciously intentional. But, they don’t have In ‘N Out, so not sure if that balances out.

Speaking of In ‘N Out, I’m a huge fan of their secret menu. So upon seeing Cheese Fries on the menu at Shake Shack, I had to get some.

I was not expecting the high school cafeteria cut and the cheese looks like nacho sauce, not the slice of grilled American I figured they’d be copying. Nonetheless, the fries were addictively crispy, and the sauce had a satisfyingly cheesy flavor. The wooden fork is necessary not for keeping your hands clean, but rather to force the fries down into the pool of sauce forming at the bottom of the basket.

I selected a double SmokeShack burger, two beef patties, bacon, and a mountain of cheese squeezed onto a far too small bun. The patties are a bit on the salty side, so when combined with the bacon, this was over salted for my west coast tastes. The sauce didn’t seem to add any flavor, just moisture. I had a hard time finding the cherry peppers, but they did add a pleasant spice and pickled flavor to every bite that cuts through and balances the cheese. Overall a pretty good burger.

So what about their namesake? Even December, I feel it’s my duty to have a shake.

Figuring it’s best to go with what’s not common, I grabbed the coffee shake that proudly brags to be fare-trade. On first sip I was shocked. Though the color belies it, this shake had more coffee flavor than any I’ve previously had. Coffee is tricky in a shake because the ratio is already up unbalanced compared to a latte. Add too little coffee and you get no flavor at all, too much and it gets icy instead of creamy, use powders and it will turn grainy. This suffered none of those flaws. It was smooth, creamy, rich, and was a perfect latte in milkshake form.

Overall, Shake Shack seems to be a great choice if you are nearby, and if there’s no wait. But at a price tag of over $20 for the above meal, I’d rather go elsewhere to In ‘N Out or any of the hundreds of gastropubs in LA that feature better burgers and better prices. We’re just spoiled that way.