Looking for the perfect bagel sandwich

November 23, 2009 9:02:11 AM PST
Finding the perfect bagel sandwich in Chicago has been an elusive quest. Finding one with smoked sturgeon has been even more so.Let's begin with the foundation: A perfectly-constructed, boiled-and-baked gem from New York Bagel & Bialy in Lincolnwood. The boiling makes them dense, the baking gives them texture, and the high turnover insures a freshly-made product. The "everything" bagel contains bits of garlic, salt, onion and sesame, but like many delis in Chicago, lox is the lone companion with cream cheese.

In the city, another boil-and-bake operation is NYC Bagel Deli, which has two locations, including a new one in the Loop. I love that they toast them upon request. Homemade cream cheese is a plus, but again, the most popular versions include smoked salmon.

"A toasted everything bagel, double toast it, a little bit of chive cream cheese on there, some sliced nova smoked salmon, gotta have the onions on there, tomatoes and capers, little bit of cucumber, that's my sandwich," said Corey Kaplan, owner of NYC Bagel Deli.

They do have smoked whitefish- and will slice it for your bagel on request- but sturgeon is another story.

At Hagen's Fish Market in Portage Park, they'll smoke just about anything on-site- Chubs, trout, salmon and even sturgeon.

"Sturgeon is a little bit more fancy, a little bit more expensive, but it's just as good; it's very, very mild," said Scott Johnson, owner of Hagen's Fish Market.

They'll hot smoke it in their enormous smoker, and the resulting texture is flaky, but a tad dry.

"I think the sturgeon has got more of a flavor like a smoked turkey or a smoked ham, its got that texture too," Johnson said.

In Lincoln Park, Dirk Fucik can talk for hours about seafood. His namesake shop in Lincoln Park carries everything from lobsters to salmon; cold-smoked sturgeon can be special-ordered, but it's rare and expensive. He does carry smoked sable - or Alaskan black cod - which has a similar texture.

"Because of the fat content, when they cold smoke it, it almost melts in your mouth. I mean it has a real soft texture to it. A sturgeon on the other hand tends to be a firmer fish with less of a fat content - has a lot, but not like sable does - and it tends to be a little drier and leaner," said Dirk Fucik, owner of Dirk's Fish & Gourmet Shop.

Back at my house, I assemble everything I need: lightly-toasted everything bagels, an even shmear of homemade plain cream cheese, a few thin slices of cold-smoked sturgeon, followed by a couple of seedless cucumbers to provide crunch, topped off with another half of shmeared bagel. It's morning bliss that is sadly not yet a part of Chicago's deli culture.

"Not enough people appreciate it I guess? Let's put it that way. It's a little more expensive in the land of smoked fish," Fucik said.

Dirk says you've got to call him a day or two ahead for sturgeon.

Hagen's has the hot-smoked product all of the time.

In any case, if everyone begins demanding their local fishmonger carry cold-smoked sturgeon, we can all embark on a tastier path to Sunday breakfast.

New York Bagel & Bialy
4714 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood

847-677-9388

newyork-bagelandbialy.com

NYC Bagel Deli
300 S. Wacker Dr.

312-922-7500

1001 W. North Ave.
312-274-1278

nycbd.com

Hagen's Fish Market
5635 W. Montrose Ave.

773-283-1944

hagensfishmarket.com

Dirk's Fish & Gourmet Shop
2070 N. Clybourn Ave.

773-404-3475

dirkfish.com


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