Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.
Monday morning of this week started out just like any other for Emily Winston, owner of Boichik Bagels in Berkeley. It’s one of her two days off, so she was just relaxing when the phone call came.
A friend and someone who has been following the progress of Boichik closely since it began — OK, it was me — called with some incredible news: In a headline that could only be considered blasphemy by many, the New York Times had just declaredL “The Best Bagels are in California (Sorry, New York).”
And not only that, but the author of the March 8 article, New York Times restaurant critic Tejal Rao, singled out Boichik as her new favorite. She also gave shoutouts to two other Bay Area bagels.
Rao opened the article by describing how a Boichik Bagel looks and smells, and then wrote the following: “This is where the writer (me), a former resident of New York City (Brooklyn), smugly tells you that these bagels are good for California bagels, excellent by West Coast standards. But no, to be clear: Emily Winston’s bagels are some of the finest New York-style bagels I’ve ever tasted. They just happen to be made in Berkeley.”
“I can die a very happy and fulfilled person now,” Winston told J. about 24 hours after the article was posted. “I’ve achieved everything I set out to achieve. There’s no greater honor for a bagel shop, no further accolade past the New York Times declaring my bagels the best.”
The article also prominently featured Midnite Bagel, available at the S.F. Ferry Building. Nick Beitcher began making those bagels for a pop-up at Tartine Bakery, where he was head baker for many years, before busting out on his own. Beitcher was profiled by J. last October.
While we couldn’t reach Beitcher in time for this piece, he wrote this on Instagram: “I’m so incredibly honored and grateful to be included … A huge thank you to everyone who has helped push @midnitebagel along, especially the extended @tartinebakery fam.”
The Times piece also profiled two places in the Los Angeles area, Courage Bagels and Pop’s, and gave brief mentions to four other bagel shops in the L.A. area and to Daily Driver in San Francisco.
The article’s timing was noteworthy in that, on March 5, Food and Wine magazine published a list of the 50 best bagel spots in the country, and no Bay Area purveyors made the list.
Bay Area bagel enthusiasts likely remember the 2015 New York Times Magazine cover story by local journalist Elizabeth Weil, which was headlined “Why Is it So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?”
Now, six years later, clearly it’s not.
Boichik opened in Berkeley in November 2019 and first was covered here two years prior when there were lines around the block near Winston’s home in Alameda. The New Jersey native quickly became a media darling for daring to say out loud that she was trying to bring a true New York bagel — modeled after her fond memories of the old H&H — to her adopted home.
This week, not surprisingly, Winston was experiencing an onslaught. As of Tuesday, she had already shut off preorders for Wednesday, and she had done one interview with a New York City radio station, with other interviews (a podcast and a local TV station) lined up. At the same time, she had to procure extra flour from a local bakery friend, and still needed more — trying to meet the insane demand that Wednesday is bound to bring (the shop is closed Mondays and Tuesdays).
While Winston noticed bumps in business after being covered by the San Francisco Chronicle a couple of times last year, this was truly “next level, a much greater magnitude,” she noted. She said she was grateful her website hadn’t crashed (she could see people looking at it from all over the world). Her phone was ringing constantly, and her Instagram feed was blowing up, as well.
Also, she was getting more wholesale inquiries, with people wanting her to ship bagels to them all over the country.
“I guess the world needs something more productive to fight about than all the other things,” Winston observed, adding that this might be the biggest bagel news since actor Cynthia Nixon, then a candidate for governor in New York, declared her favorite bagel order to be lox, plain cream cheese, tomatoes, red onion and capers on a cinnamon-raisin bagel.
While Winston couldn’t be more excited (as well as overwhelmed) to deal with all the anticipated craziness of the next few weeks, and said she was grateful she had a highly capable staff, she also noted that since Boichik Bagels is kosher, her shop will close the whole week of Passover, which starts the night of March 27.
“I’m feeling really grateful for that right now,” she said, “as we can just collapse in a heap.”