Sundays in New York City are for bagels and lox. I try my best to abstain from the bready breakfast food for six whole days so that on the seventh I may indulge in brined salmon, cream cheese, and red onion between an everything bagel as I walk through a park or on my way to a quiet spot to work. It’s the perfect hand-held treat to pick up quick and bring along for a solo brunch wherever I please.
While I have spent a fair amount of time wandering the west 80’s of Manhattan, I am still slowly working my way through bagel spots. There is no one place I have stumbled upon yet that has snatched my heart and become my go-to. That was the case until I realized that Orwashers, which I thought only had a location in the upper east side, also had a spot a couple of blocks away from Fourth Universalist Society where I spend my Sundays when I can. I had been looking to try their doughnut offerings for this blog. However, I discovered that not only did they have such a prime location, but they also do bagels along with all the baked goods I had been waiting to try from them. Not just bagels, but they had exactly what I was looking for in their New York Breakfast – an everything bagel with lox, cream cheese, and red onion. It was time to see if Orwashers had been worth the wait, and whether they could possibly become my go-to of the Upper West Side.
The first blustery Sunday of fall, New Yorkers were in the New Yorkiest of moods. Nothing puts a spring in the step of the city quite like the chance to walk through central park in a light jacket, baked good in hand, looking for any small changes of color in the trees. Consequently, Orwashers was packed with people looking to get their ideal Sunday in. Despite the long line and tight space, I appreciated the employee who was making the rounds getting what orders she could on an iPad to make sure all would be ready when we reached the register. The line hugged the pastry case that held a multitude of goods. Not only the doughnuts that I had been waiting to try for so long, looking as good as I had hoped, but golden brown chocolate chip cookies, Linzer cookies, trays of rugalach, croissants of many fillings, black and white cookies large and small, as well as a smattering of savory sandwich options. While I had that New York breakfast sandwich in mind, my hungry mind was straying and coveting all the eyes could see. I thought perhaps if the bagel was good enough, I would give myself a walk through the park to the location on the east side and have a doughnut for a lunch/dinner (aka “linner”) treat.
The line went along fairly quickly, and I picked up my order and ambled over to a bench a few steps into the park. I unwrapped the aluminum foil to find a picturesque bagel: not too huge, but not a wisp of a thing either. It was just enough to be two chewy ends to a sandwich of beautiful proportion. The contents were not bursting forth from the sides either — spilling out as many sandwiches often do — but were well stacked. The cream cheese, with fresh chives mixed throughout and patted against the sides, smeared across the bottom providing a stable base for the red onion slices, the crunchy precursor to the layers of salmon that piled just high enough before being capped off by the top of the bagel. It was a beautiful sight not only in its layering, but its stripes of colors. The bright green of the chive, the purple of the onion, the vivacious pink of the salmon, all between two light brown mounds dotted with seeds and salt.
While I love a bagel that is filling and yeasty, there is a fine line to tread. Especially when it is a bagel that is part of a sandwich, too much substance can overwhelm the thing. This bagel had just enough to give it the yeasty, malty, breadiness that is all that is good in a bagel, while not weighing me down or overpowering the actual contents of the sandwich. While the initial tastes were of the salty seasoning of the everything-adorned outside, I was able to savor that as well as the thick, sweet cream cheese with its flecks of chives to surprise me with a light crunch throughout. The cream cheese was a luxurious spread that I would happily get on its own to have in my home. Then, after the sweet and acidic crunch of the red onion, the salmon was tender and briny, but not fishy. It was all that is great about a bagel and lox. The carb-loading of the bagel juxtaposed with the lightness of the good-quality fish pulled together the creamy and crunchy, sweet and savory of its other adornments. Orwashers had hit every note perfectly. I relished each bite, for each one had just the right amount of each ingredient. And by the end I did not feel heavy or sleepy, but perfectly nourished. Yes, they had certainly earned a walk over for a doughnut after services.
So when the services ended, I promptly began my jaunt to the east side. I hit the other side of the park, strode a few more blocks and hit the second location. The east side spot is a little smaller, with no option to sit and seemingly fewer food options. But the basics were at least there, including an array of doughnuts. There were chocolate and honey glazed, vanilla frosted rings, but what I had my eye on were the filled doughnuts. Orwashers does things a little differently when it comes to this. They serve red and black raspberry, lemon, strawberry, cherry, and a seasonal flavor (which this month was cranberry apple) in their doughnuts, which you can get in either the classic sugar, or chocolate frosted. When you order your preference, they take a doughnut from the counter and fill it right then and there. Rather than pre-filling them based off of what sells more or predicting the desires of customers that day, possibly filling too many sugar doughnuts with red raspberry filling when tons of people want strawberry in a chocolate frosted that day, they leave the options open. I really appreciated this little touch, as well as the pleasure of watching them inject the doughnut with jam. I went classic with the sugar doughnut, but seasonal with the cranberry apple filling. It was a fall day after all! The servers were extremely kind and amiable, and I was in and out with my doughnut which I ate on my way to my next Sunday destination – a matinee performance of Wicked.
The doughnut itself was well-risen, a pillowy circle sprinkled in sugar granules. A little sweetness in the bread itself without an overpowering amount left room for the filling to shine. After a bready beginning the filling burst forth, evenly filled throughout (what is worse than getting a filled doughnut with barely any filling, or filling placed in a weird way?), and a succulent fruity jam of apple and cranberries. The apple was the headliner, providing the occasional chunk that added some textural interest and that familiar autumn flavor palate, fresh and crisp like the air around us. The cranberry added a little tang, upping the game from a simple sweet treat to something a little bit more special. There was a well-balanced game going on of textures and flavors. It wasn’t a hunk of fried dough, heavily adorned in a way that forces it more into the dessert world. This doughnut was simple and classy, more akin to have a sweet roll with some good quality jam. Still a sweet treat, but one you don’t feel so out of place having in the morning or mid-afternoon. A dozen of these could fit in seamlessly at a Sunday brunch event with fancy trays of other more complex and high-class pastries.
I am already thinking forward to my next visit to Orwashers, considering what I shall try next from them. There were so many goods that looked enticing and deserving of a try. I would happily get another bagel, but maybe this time with their signature dill cream cheese. Or maybe I’d try another doughnut, like their chocolate glazed, or another filled combination like a chocolate frosted with strawberry filling. Orwashers has so many options for whatever your stomach could desire from a New York pastry case. They have placed themselves perfectly to be a part of many a New Yorker’s morning or afternoon snack from east to west.