Back in 2017 an incident known as #BagelGate broke out on Twitter when a user posted a photo of bagels sliced crosswise in what’s apparently known as “St. Louis style.” It hurts just to look at pictures of what went down. It was that ugly.
On President Joe Biden’s first Sunday in office, his bagel order was the cause of yet another bagel-centric controversy.
It’s always been fun to see where presidents eat in Washington, DC. Both Presidents Bush enjoyed eating at Peking Gourmet. President Clinton is said to have visited the Bombay Club often. President Obama celebrated many family occasions at Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, while the only DC restaurant that President Trump visited was the steakhouse at his own hotel.
Just four days after his presidential inauguration, President Biden and his crew picked up an order of bagels from Call Your Mother, a DC bagel hotspot and self-described “Jew-ish deli.” For Jews and bagel aficionados around the country, it was exciting to see that the president’s first restaurant visit was to a bagel joint. What so many of us were not thrilled about, however, was that the president apparently ordered his deliciously fresh bagel toasted.
The debate got pretty heated, with an article in Washingtonian titled “If Joe Biden Wants to Unify the Nation, Why Did He Get a Toasted Bagel?” People weighed in on both sides, with one Twitter user saying that President Biden was clearly the target of a schmear campaign. Ha.
I belong to the more traditional school of thought that there is no reason to toast a good bagel.
Originally brought to New York by European Jewish immigrants, bagels eventually made their way to the shelves of grocery stores, stocked alongside packaged bread. Murray Lender, son of the Polish immigrant and New Haven wholesale bagel bakery owner Harry Lender, bought a freezer in 1956 and changed the American bagel scene forever. The innovative Lender men helped bring bagels to the masses by freezing and thawing bagels for distribution.
In the rulebook I play by, there are just two acceptable reasons to toast a bagel: 1) if the bagel was purchased pre-packaged from the grocery store, like a Lender’s bagel, and 2) if the bagel is more than a day old, having been purchased locally the day before or brought back in bulk from a trip to a city with good bagels and then frozen.
My hometown of Sacramento, California, is far away from the good bagel scenes on the East Coast. There was one decent chain bagel shop nearby, but nothing like what I tasted on trips to New York. For that reason, I grew up eating my fair share of toasted bagels—but only out of necessity.
I would never toast a fresh bagel. In fact, I’m planning to get a bagel from Call Your Mother this weekend, and I can guarantee that it will not be toasted. Moving forward, I encourage the president to correct his mistake and do the same. And just to make sure we’ve covered all of our bases, President Biden, please make sure that when you order your next pastrami sandwich it’s on rye bread, with a good deli mustard.