Atlanta isn’t known for its vast selection of fresh bagels. Shops and longtime bagel institutions, like Bagel Palace in the Toco Hill shopping plaza, have sadly come and gone over the years. Other shops, like the no frills Marietta bagel and deli stalwart Bagelicous, continue to attract new generations of loyal regulars. Just remember to bring cash. A few bagel shops throughout Atlanta installed water filtration systems, attempting to mimic the water used at shops in Brooklyn, New York — considered the home of the American bagel. While Atlanta may lack the proliferation of bagel shops found in New York City, there are shops specializing in New York-style bagels worth seeking out here.
The first bite into a freshly baked bagel should lie somewhere between dutiful breakfast staple and a life-changing religious experience. When prepared properly, which means kettle-boiled and then baked, a bagel has a crispy, blistery exterior with a dense, fluffy interior.
At its most basic, the bagel is a humble bread product perfected by Jewish communities living in Poland during the mid-1700s. In fact, the word bagel or “beigel” comes from Yiddish, the daily language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews in those days. Jewish immigrants from Poland brought the bagel to the United States some time in the late-19th century, where it has only grown in popularity as a breakfast food since its arrival.
Traditional (read: correct) bagels begin as logs of dough twisted into a ring and then boiled in water, covered in toppings, and baked to a deep dark brown. A walk into a well-heeled bagel shop yields smells of freshly baked bread tinged with garlic and onions, as bagels are typically stored each morning in wire baskets stacked along walls.
As the bagel assimilated into American culture, it mostly strayed from its Jewish roots — sometimes for good, but more often for worse. A proper bagel is not a closed sandwich, nor is it toasted when it’s made fresh. While to-go bagels are often wrapped as a closed sandwich, it is customary to open the packaging, reallocate the toppings, and eat the halves individually.
Traditionally, bagels come in a small number of flavors: garlic, onion, poppy seed, sesame seed, salt, and everything (a combination of each of the previous toppings in one glorious bite.) There’s a bit of leeway in the everything bagel; the addition of caraway seeds is now moderately common. Rolled oats have recently begun appearing on everything bagels, too. Better bagel shops also offer a bright yellow egg version of each of those traditional flavors, and there’s one acceptable sweet bagel: cinnamon-raisin.
Since bagels arrived in America over a century ago, flavors and toppings have strayed further from the aforementioned traditional six. But for New York-style purists, bagels are not covered in cheddar cheese or jalapeños, and certainly not stuffed with blueberries or covered in fruit-flavored cream cheese. Under no circumstance is a bagel dyed the colors of the rainbow. And as a Jewish food item, there is no room for bacon on a bagel.
While most people order a single bagel with toppings such as cream cheese (schmear) or lox (cold-cured salmon), true bagel lovers order by the baker’s dozen. Shops are often prepared to quickly slice and package up fresh bagels to take home. When requested, a few shops even include freezer bags with ties.
Looking for good bagels in and around Atlanta? Try one of these six locally owned establishments listed below for some of Atlanta’s best versions of New York-style bagels.
6355 Peachtree Dunwoody Road, Sandy Springs
In addition to its bagels, the newest location of Bagel Boys in Sandy Springs features a full menu of breakfast sandwiches, deli meats, soups, and wraps. Bagels here are always baked fresh daily. The shop includes two additional locations in Alpharetta. Grab a seat at an outdoor table or opt for takeout. Order online for takeout or delivery. Masks required.
Brooklyn Bagel Bakery and Deli
925 Haynes Bridge Road, Johns Creek
Brooklyn Bagels makes its bagels the proper New York way: kettle boiled before baking to produce a crispy, blistered crust and a soft, fluffy interior. Traditional bagel options are joined on the menu by lunchtime hoagie sandwiches and creative bagel combinations and flavors. The Johns Creek-based bakery and deli plans to open an in-town location at Ansley Mall in Piedmont Heights this spring. Call 770-569-7290 to order takeout. Masks required.
Emerald City Bagels
1257A Glenwood Avenue SE, Atlanta
When Emerald City popped up on the Atlanta bagel market, aficionados knew that these bagels were the real deal. Slow fermented and boiled the traditional way, Emerald City’s bagels quickly became a darling at farmers markets and dominate the menus at some of Atlanta’s best coffee shops and cafes. Founded by mother-daughter duo Deanna and Jackie Halcrow, Emerald City Bagels now includes a permanent shop in East Atlanta Village. Bagels tend to sell out fast each day. Order online for takeout. Shipping available. Masks required.
Goldberg’s Fine Foods
3003 North Druid Hills Road NE, Atlanta
Goldberg’s Fine Foods features a full-service restaurant on one side and a traditional bagel counter on the other. The restaurant portion of Goldberg’s doesn’t quite fit the complete description of a New York or New Jersey diner, but it’s the closest thing to one in Atlanta. Goldberg’s boils and bakes its bagels, which are just one part of this establishment’s vast menu. There’s also a huge selection of breakfast specials, including the popular year-round potato latkes. After breakfast, grab a dozen bagels to take home. Don’t skip the oversized black and white cookies located by the cash registers. Goldberg’s includes seven locations throughout Atlanta and two locations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Masks highly encouraged.
2153 Briarcliff Road NE, Atlanta
A staple of Atlanta’s kosher-observant community, Kosher Gourmet is a butcher shop and grocery store in the heart of the Toco Hills neighborhood. Bagels are always available for in-store purchase, but Kosher Gourmet is best known for its catering platters. Order a variety of bagels, schmears, toppings, and more. While shopping, grab a kosher deli sandwich, fresh-baked challah, and a bottle of kosher wine. Order online for pick-up. Masks required.
The General Muir
1540 Avenue Place, Atlanta; 6405 Blue Stone Road, Sandy Springs
The General Muir (TGM) has set the standard as a high-end, Jewish deli; a restaurant category that one might argue it created in Atlanta. TGM’s dine-in menu is pretty strict. Bagel entrees are pre-set with a choice of bagel (plain) in order to spotlight the traditional cured, salted, and preserved fish toppings. However, bagels can be ordered a la carte and dressed DIY style. Unlike other shops in Atlanta, TGM isn’t the kind of place people can just run in and grab a dozen bagels to throw into the freezer. Here, each bagel is meant to be savored and enjoyed slowly. A second, smaller location is now open in Sandy Springs. Hours throughout the pandemic Wednesday - Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Limited dine-in service. Reservations highly recommended, required on weekends. Order online for takeout. Delivery available via DoorDash. Masks required.
Robbie Medwed is an Atlanta-based educator and food and culture writer who teaches Jewish Bible, law, and history at the Epstein School in Sandy Springs. Medwed has a master’s degree in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, where he lived for two years. His food writing has appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times, the Jewish Food Experience, Grok Nation, and Eater Atlanta. He also runs cocktail website, KosherCocktail.com.