Onion bagels  epitomize the New York bagel more than any other variety in the city known for its water-bath wonders.  Indeed growing up in New York Sunday mornings meant bagels for breakfast, with lox and cream cheese and sometimes white-fish salad or a whole fish of smoked sable.  We had the proverbial baker’s dozen, which included plain, sesame seed and onion.  Occasionally an egg bagel (with onions) was included in the mix and a few bialies, too.

Union’s basket of onion bagels

But in our growing world of bagels made in Maine what should be the lead contender–the onion bagel–is as elusive as poutine in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Maine’s Mr. Bagel and Union Bagel Company, however,  regularly offer onion bagels.  The former, however, is a strange specimen with miniscule flecks of dehydrated onion incorporated in the dough.  The result is an insipid attempt at replicating the deliciousness of the New York onion bagel. Union has big flecks of dehydrated onion coating the outside of the bagel, but I’m not crazy about the texture itself–they lack that golden burnished exterior –and the onion flakes taste raw.  Their bialy, however, is first rate and Mr. Bagel’s version is not bad.  For a while Mr Bagel offered flagels, which are a flattened bagel, loaded with onions or everything.  They stopped serving them.  Too goyishe for Mainers, I guess.

The classic New York egg onion bagel

Then Rose Foods came on the scene, owned by the very super goy himself, Chad Conley of  Palace Diner fame. He has a lineup of classic New York style bagels. And his chopped liver–loaded with caramelized onion and gribeness–are classics of the genre–and the whitefish salad too.  In his standard mix of bagels that include the everything, poppy, sesame and dark rye they also offer a daily special;  One time it was (upon my request) an onion bagel.  I bought a half-dozen– sliced and frozen to save in the freezer.  The next time I saw Conley at his shop I said, “These are your best bagels ever.”

Top, clockwise: Mr. Bagel’s basket of onion bagels; Mr Bagel’s bialy and Union’s bialy sandwich

As the weeks–and now months–went by the shop only offered them once or twice more.  I asked Conley why they aren’t on his regular menu.  “It’s up to my baker,” he responded.

An assortment at the Purple House Bakery; fennel maple sea salt among them

Rose Foods bagel offerings

So the baker does include onion occasionally but mixed with other spices like celery salt and fennel seed.  Meh.  They’re OK, but if you want a real New York onion bagel reproduced unemcumbered it barely exists in Yankee land.

Union’s onion bagel sandwich with all the fixings


We have a lot of new bagel shops opening up or already in operation.  I did a quick survey to see if any will have or have onions bagels.

Forage (Lewiston) coming to Washington Avenue.  Very good bagels but no plans for onion.

Rover Wood-Fired Bagels (Biddeford).  No onion bagels.

Scratch Baking (South Portland).  Before the newcomers these were a hands down favorite.  But no onion bagels ever.

The Purple House (North Yarmouth), Fabulous Montreal style bagels baked in a wood-fired brick oven from master baker, chef and pastry chef Krista Dejarlais—-no onion for now but contemplating it in the future.

Maples (North Yarmouth). Big beefy bagels, good exterior bite and texture but no onion.