A Guest Commentary
inspired by all of this Bialystalk
By Arthur Camins
I love bialys, but would be loath to claim to be a connoisseur. Nonetheless, when Paul, whose food opinions I trust, told me several days ago that the best bialy he had eaten was in Asheville, NC, I was to say the least, skeptical. Though I grew up in New Jersey in the 1950s and 60s on bagels and bialys, I spent a large portion of my life in Brooklyn. This is where my passion for bialys reached its full flower (or is it flour). Living in East New York, between 1972 and 1990, I was able to nourish that passion at Bell Bialy located at the corner of East 80th street and Flatlands Avenue. Sometimes, after a Saturday night movie, we’d pick up bialys, bagels and the early edition of the Sunday NY Times, while at other times is was a Sunday morning excursion.
Two moves later, in 1997 I found myself bialy deprived in Lexington, MA. One day my brother-in-law, Howard a foodie in his own right, told me that bialys were now available at of all places, Stop-and-Shop. Who would’a thunk?
I had to investigate. Indeed, they looked and tasted like the real deal. So, I asked the store bakery person, where they came from. “I don’t know,” he replied, with a little who cares in his voice. I said, “Go look.”
He came back from the freezer with what he thought would be the final answer, “Brooklyn.” He was not done. “Where in Brooklyn?” I demanded with rising expectation. “Go look,” I demanded with just a bit of NY chutzpah.
The answer came back, Foster Avenue. Could it be? Had Bell Bialy moved? The wrapper sealed the deal… indeed Bell had gone wholesale and merged with B & S Bialys. I returned again and again to indulge my passion, it becoming a several times a week breakfast. Just as an aside, I decided that butter was the preferred schmeer for bialys, bringing out its wonderful yeasty flavor.
A decade later, I found myself with a job offer in of all potentially bialys deprived places, Louisville, KY. I said that I would only come if I could find bialys! Amazingly, Whole Foods had bialys. I repeated the same interrogation with their bakery department… the answer came back, The Bronx. I couldn’t do a comparison, but they were pretty good. My palate was satiated for a year…. and then, disaster struck. Corporate headquarters decided the area was not selling enough bialys and discontinued. Now, I was really desperate. I told the superintendent with whom I worked, “I’m quitting, Whole Foods stopped selling bialys!” He didn’t believe me and fortunately, I found a work-around.
The bialy saga continued. I would not go unfulfilled. This led to several treks to the hole-in-the-wall Bell Bialy bakery in Canarsie on visits to my two grown children, both of whom had returned to the motherland and were living in Brooklyn. The routine was to buy five-dozen at a time and schlep them back to Louisville in a bag on the plane. Luckily, carrying bialys through airport security is OK and transport across state lines does not violate interstate commerce or FDA regulations.
Our stay in Louisville lasted only three years, and we now find ourselves living in Maplewood, NJ…. and Yes! King’s supermarket has Bell Bialys!
So, bring on the bialy cook off! Asheville, could it be? What a blow to NY chauvinism that would be.
Editor’s response: Thanks Arthur, well put. In my view though, I don’t see this as a blow to NY chauvinism using the logic that all bialy lovers (and hence bakers, by definition) are really displaced New Yorkers in one sense or another…