It’s time for another edition of the DC Omnivore 100, where we explore the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives…
I hail from the Upper Westside of New York City, and when it comes to “Jew-food” (bagels, lox, matzo balls, blintzes, etc.) we Upper Westsiders know our stuff. My apartment was at the epicenter of all good things bagel related (Zabar’s, H&H Bagels, Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, Barney Greengrass, etc.) and growing up, bagels and lox (aka: smoked salmon) were a special occasion fare for Sunday brunch, and leftovers usually lasted well into the week. Glorious!
The key to perfecting this dish is your ingredients. The bagels must be fresh, with a crispy baked crust and a chewy boiled inside. In DC Brooklyn Bagel Bakery in Arlington offers the best bagels, in all the traditional flavors, that I’ve found to date with Bethesda Bagels coming in second. Please don’t buy any non-traditional bagel flavors; chocolate chip, honey wheat, and tomato-basil are bagel sins, if you ask me, and will distort the utter simplicity of this dish. Stick with plain and poppy/sesame seed.
The next absolutely key ingredient is the smoked salmon. Some bagel places do offer lox and although the temptation to procure all ingredients in one fell swoop is great, this is an ingredient (along with the bagels) that you should be picky about. If your bagel shop’s lox is fresh, smooth, buttery, not too salty and agrees with your palate, then have at it. Otherwise, gourmet shops like Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s and Whole Foods offer good selections in the DC metro area. If possible, have the lox sliced to order as it’s important to have freshly and thinly sliced salmon. Also, always asks for a sample.
You’ll round off your provisions with plain cream cheese (which you can get at the bagelry), capers, red onion and sliced tomato. Personally, I’d also suggest buying scallion cream cheese.
Now, if you’re new to the bagel and lox experience, start off not going full tilt with the toppings. Finding your preferred combination of toppings will require some experimentation and time, but it’s well worth it. Start off with a plain bagel, a schmear of plain cream cheese and a thin slice of salmon. The bagel is the perfect tactile platform from which the lox and cream cheese will melt into your mouth yielding both a savory and creamy taste. You can up the combination of flavors with a slice of tomato giving a tart sweetness, capers upping the salty and pickled ante, and red onion offering a mildly sharp tang. Personally, my combination is plain bagel, scallion cream cheese, lox, sliced tomato and capers.
As for beverages, bagels and lox go great with a fresh brewed cup of coffee, and also with mimosas. So add orange juice and champagne to your shopping list.
Additional advice: I know bagels and lox are often menu items for brunch, but I highly recommend skipping it. Better to have bagels and lox as an at home cook-less brunch offering that is perfect for get-togethers. Enjoy!