Boston Bagels to Melt a New York Heart
There really is something in the water at Framingham's Brooklyn Water Bagels.
As a born and bred New Yorker who has moved around the last decade or so—from Brooklyn to Duluth to Minneapolis and now Boston—my tastes have changed a bit. I no longer turn up my nose at pizza made outside the Big Apple, and I’ve been known to grab a quick breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to work. But the minute I bit into an egg bagel with a schmear of nova spread from Brooklyn Water Bagels in Framingham, my discerning Brooklynite palate came back to life. I was instantly transported back to the city that never sleeps and enjoyed every second of it; the glossy, crisp crust of the bagel gave way to eggy, fluffy goodness with a satisfying chewiness as the salty spread melted on my tongue. Unlike the pasty imitations I’d been eating in recent years, nothing got stuck in my teeth. I had found bagel heaven just a few miles outside of Boston.
I’ve often heard (and repeated) that it’s the water, which comes from upstate, that makes New York City pizza crusts and bagels so good. The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Company was founded on this idea. Every store has a filtration room where the local water gets “Brooklynized” through a 14-step proprietary process, involving purification, holding tanks, a UV light to kill bacteria and the readdition of minerals for that authentic flavor. The resulting water is used for everything in the restaurant, from washing vegetables to boiling the bagels.
The filtration room buzzes loudly as Stephen Ashkinos, who owns the Framingham franchise, shows me how it all works. He points to a screen that reminds me of a life support machine, with colorful lines that blip and move, measuring how the water is doing. “The water is everything,” he says. Ashkinos learned all about it when he helped build the filtration system at his store before it opened to the public two-and-a-half years ago.
Since then, Brooklyn Water Bagels in Framingham has won best bagel in the Metro West area for two years running by the MetroWest Daily News. Ashkinos and his partners plan to open up to 25 stores in Massachusetts, but they’re expanding carefully and slowly. “We wanted to wait for the local clientele to accept our product,” he explains. “It’s been great.” His clientele is unerringly loyal. “We have people here Monday through Friday, every single day, at the same time. On the weekends it’s the same thing.” As people come in and out of the store, he smiles and waves. “I love dealing with the customers. It’s enjoyable when they’re happy.”
The true test was with transplanted New Yorkers who now live in Massachusetts. According to Ashkinos, some of his customers used to travel home to Long Island for the holidays and bring back dozens of bagels to keep in their freezers. “They don’t have to do that anymore,” he says. “When they go home to New York, they bring our bagels there. For us, that’s the stamp of approval.”
It’s not just the water that makes these bagels special. Ashkinos maintains a high standard for creating a fresh product; if his bakers, who go through eight months of training, make a batch from memory without referring to the recipe book, they get thrown out. “We’re very specific on how we make them,” he explains. “We don’t make bread with a hole in it. And we don’t leave them out for more than an hour, so what you’re getting is a fresh product.”
The bagel-making process at the Framingham store involves more than just water, flour and a few other ingredients. After mixing the dough and dividing it into bagels, they sit at room temperature for a few hours to rest and rise. Then, they go into the refrigerator for up to two days, which Ashkinos says “lets the bagel mature and locks the flavor in.” It’s also crucial, he says, to getting that great texture, with a hard outside and a soft, chewy inside. Then, the bagels are boiled for a specific amount of time—each flavor is different—and baked.
In addition to its namesake product, Brooklyn Water Bagels makes other traditional New York treats, including overstuffed sandwiches, bialys and knishes. But the best accompaniment to your bagel is their iced coffee. It’s served with cubes made from fresh-brewed coffee, so as they melt, your drink doesn’t get diluted. And yes, it's brewed with that special “Brooklynized” water.