Much has been made of Philadelphia as “the sixth borough” of New York City, but if you are moving here from Manhattan, there is one item you’ll ask folks to stick in their luggage when they visit you: bagels.
Much has been made of Philadelphia as “the sixth borough” of New York City. The big draw is the cheaper housing, but the quality of life contributes as well. Philly has a formidable dining scene, arts and culture, and top-tier universities, as well as edgy artist communities to fill that cheaper housing.
Sounds like a good deal, but if you are moving from Manhattan there is one item that you’ll ask friends and family to stick in their luggage on any future visits: bagels.
It sounds counter-intuitive because we are a city of great breads, and our soft pretzels are second only to the Liberty Bell as an icon. Still, most Manhattan ex-pats will say bagels are clearly not our city’s yeast-and-flour forte. They lack the requisite texture that offers a firm platform for cream cheese while yielding to a soft, chewy interior.
In fact, one bakery even claims it skips the pre-baking step of a dunk in boiling water and goes straight to the oven. That may be a nice round roll with a hole in the middle, but it is most definitively not a bagel. That short, hot swim prior to baking is what gives a bagel its “chew.” In fact, it is also the secret to a good soft pretzel. Add to that the existence of PHILADELPHIA cream cheese, and it does kinda make you wonder how we lag in this arena.
Spread something good
David Fine says he believes bagels in Philadelphia can not only be good, but also do good. He is the founder and “Chief Schmear Officer” of Schmear It, a new food truck serving both bagels and social consciousness.
“I wanted to create a fun and unique food truck concept with a social-conscious component,” Fine said. “It’s meant to be a grassroots fundraising and marketing tool.”
Fine earned a Tribe 12 fellowship. Tribe 12 is a Philadelphia organization that is an accelerator for businesses and nonprofits. The program allowed him to hone his idea and get started.
Fine’s mission is perhaps less about bagels and more about creating a model for a food business to incorporate social consciousness. Each week Schmear It will feature a local nonprofit, and the truck will “spread some good” by donating a portion of its sales while providing social media and marketing outreach about the organization.
Fine—who, if pressed, would agree the best bagels are in New York City—did an exhaustive search to find Philly’s best producer, South Street Philly Bagels, to supply his truck.
Schmear It’s signature sandwiches are the Stuffed French Toast Bagel (cream cheese, strawberries, bananas, maple syrup and walnuts on a French toast bagel) and the Philly Roll Bagel (cream cheese, chopped lox, wasabi, cucumber and soy sauce on an everything bagel). Clearly that’s a move to prove that, no matter how you feel about our bagels, Philadelphia lives by the saying “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
Customers can also create their own “schmear” with a variety of ingredients.
Lari Robling is an independent radio producer and the author of “Endangered Recipes: Too Good to Be Forgotten.”