The Best Gluten-Free New York Style Bagels

March 22, 2022
Abigail Lev

Plainview, New York, United States

Class of 2022

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Just one block west of Central Park, nestled between the busy streets of 82nd and 83rd, lays a groundbreaking shop: an entirely gluten-free establishment called Modern Bread & Bagel. The bustling storefront, founded in February 2019, makes all products using an ingenious concoction of numerous gluten-free flour mixes created by Orly Gottesman, named Blends by Orly. Her flour company is unique because all the blends have a 1:1 ratio with non-gluten-free flour. Gottesman and her husband Josh currently own both Modern Bread & Bagel, as well as the fully gluten-free sister sit-down restaurant next door, Thyme & Tonic.

Since its creation, Modern Bread & Bagel has amassed a large social media fanbase: over 18,000 followers on Instagram and 63,000 likes on Tik Tok, where they post pictures and videos of their products. Customers who discovered the store online come in to try the delectable dishes frequently. A recent customer walked into the store and exclaimed “I found you on Instagram, I’m so excited!” said Noa Rubin, Modern Bread & Bagel’s customer service representative. But it isn’t the newfound influencer-like fame that sets this store apart. Rather, it is in the way that Gottesman was able to create completely gluten-free bagels in the famed New York style: kettle-boiled.

The heavenly nature of the bagels should come as no surprise since Modern Bread & Bagels uses the same cooking process as any other New York bagel place. The first step is to mix the dough in the giant mixer using the dough hook. Next, the bakers hand-roll the dough into bagel shapes in an assembly-line fashion: from the mixer to the scooper, and finally to the roller. The dough is then proofed for 45 minutes to an hour, or until they have doubled in size. Depending on the batch, they will be refrigerated or go straight to the kettle-boiler. Finally, they are baked in a rotating bagel oven at over 500 degrees to get an even bake. “The reason they are such authentic bagels is because of the hand-rolling process and the kettle-boiling and the baking,” said Ms. Gottesman. She compared it to baking a pizza at home versus at a pizzeria: “It makes such a difference.”

The idea behind Blends by Orly officially began to formulate in Sydney, Australia, at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute. However, the story actually starts a bit earlier. In 2008, Mr. Gottesman was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that prohibits gluten digestion. Once the couple moved to Paris, Ms. Gottesman said, “My husband was working all the time and I didn’t have a working visa, so I took some French classes, and I took some baking classes… and I absolutely fell in love with French baking.” While there, she completed an apprenticeship at a French patisserie, further allowing her to delve into her new craft. When she and her husband made their next move, to Sydney, Australia, Ms. Gottesman enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and began to work in an independent study. She explained, “I was given my own test kitchen and I was given one-on-one attention from [Andre Sandison], who was the head chef of the program.” She spent her days developing different blends of gluten-free grains to determine which combinations worked best to taste and feel like the non-gluten-free pastries.

The flour blends, which charmingly line the left wall of the storefront, are specifically made for various types of baked goods. Gluten-free pastries and bagels thrive on the Manhattan Blend, formulated from Ms. Gottesman’s very own flour blend, as well as potato starch, tapioca starch, and xanthan gum. Other examples include the London Blend (for biscuits and cookies), the Sydney Blend (for cakes), and the Tuscany Blend (for pizza crust and breads). The titles are no coincidence: “I named them all after different places I lived that reminded me of that food,” said Ms. Gottesman, “Sydney is a big café culture and you go and get your muffins for breakfast,” which is why the city lends its name to that particular blend.

Take a step from the bustling southbound traffic of Columbus Avenue, right near Central Park (the website even suggests stopping by for a snack before taking a stroll through Manhattan’s gorgeous greenery) to find yourself inside Modern Bread & Bagel. It is seemingly hard to miss, albeit tucked behind a construction overhang since the large grassy signage of Thyme & Tonic truly stands out. On the right-hand side of the store stands an array of six cream cheese options, with choices spanning from the nontraditional jalapeño cheddar to the more-commonly seen veggie (I opted for chive cream cheese). Bagels are mounted to the wall on poles through the center hole, organized by type. They offer Plain, Everything, Superseed, Sesame, and Cinnamon Raisin, all for only $2.95 each (being a basic New Yorker, I decided on a plain bagel). The bagels are a bit pricier than the average, but gluten-free delicacies almost always are. The store bears the atmosphere of any “run-of-the-mill [New York] bagel shop,” said Ms. Rubin, “plus a bakery and hot sandwiches.”

For any celiac or gluten intolerant foodie, that is a benefit; fully functional restaurants that operate sans gluten are not plentiful.

From the first bite, those who are gluten-free will be reminded of the delicious opposition found in a regular New York bagel: a glossy, yet crispy, outer edge with chewy, doughy insides. Paired with the thick and velvety cream cheese, the bagel leaves little to be desired. The only downside is the thirst that comes with any bread product, only giving customers more reason to try the coffee.

The store is not solely popular among the dietarily restricted crowd. “A lot of my friends come here [who] are not gluten-free,” said Ms. Rubin, who does not refrain from eating gluten herself. “A lot of people don’t [even] know we are gluten-free.” When at work, she eats breakfast, lunch, and coffee from the store and often brings food home. After all, she added, “I wouldn’t eat it if I didn’t think it was good.”

On the busiest days, which tend to be Fridays and Saturdays, lines often stretch out the door. “Keeping up with that demand is really, really a lot of work,” said Ms. Rubin. Yet in-person customers are only half of Modern Bread & Bagel’s clientele. The other fifty percent is formed by online orders. Modern Bread & Bagel did not always ship their products nationally, though. “We are a New York City-based restaurant,” said Ms. Gottesman, so at the beginning of the pandemic, “so much of our clientele got up and moved.” Loyal customers began to reach out, asking if Modern Bread & Bagel could send some products to them. Eventually, after shipping to a few individual customers on the side, the demand grew to the point where she decided to make it an official part of the company. “Now we have a full-time role at the restaurant, our shipping, and logistics coordinator,” said Ms. Gottesman.

Ms. Gottesman understands that “gluten-free baking is never going to be the exact same as regular dough,” but at least with flour from Blends by Orly and the process used by Modern Bread & Bagel, it can get pretty close.

Abs Lev is a BBG from Nassau Suffolk Region, and she has a fear of yogurt.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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