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On a recent trip to New York City, I made a point to stop by a small shop that has been a city landmark for years. Russ and Daughters, a specialty store located in Manhattan’s lower east side, is generally held as a national standard for smoked fish. The small shop is nearly always crowded, with hardly enough room inside to tie your shoes. It has been gushed about by newspapers, magazines, and celebrities alike, and probably deserves every word of praise it has received. The quintessential dining experience at Russ and Daughters would have to be their bagel and lox, of which, you will not find a finer specimen on earth. The exquisite combination of smoked salmon, bagel, red onion, capers and cream cheese is a delicacy that requires care and attention to detail to recreate, yet good representations can be found elsewhere if you know where to look.
If hopping on a plane to JFK is not in your immediate future, you may be wondering where you can find a decent substitute for a New York bagel and lox experience a little closer to home. Well Arkansans, you need look no further than Morningside Bagels in North Little Rock. Morningside is a small family-operated establishment, cranking out scratch-made bagels and schmears, alongside muffins, coffee, and cookies. They have been dedicated to the art of the perfect New York-style boiled-and-baked bagel since opening their doors in 2007 and have been forming a dedicated following ever since that time.
After placing my order and taking a seat at Morningside early on a lazy Saturday morning, I quickly became aware of how well-known and well-received each customer was. Nearly every patron who walked through the doors was greeted by name and immediately began to catch up on recent events with the employees and owners. Even shortly after a 7 AM opening (on a weekend, nonetheless) a line started to form at the counter. Many customers ordered simply by stating, “I’ll just have my regular.” It’s a good omen anytime you find a place with a line and a loyal following and my anticipation continued to grow as I waited for my own bite of bagel.
Of course, I had to go with the bagel and lox sandwich. The preparation follows the classic approach, smoked salmon, smoothly blended and whipped cream cheese, thinly sliced red onion, salty green capers, and ripe red tomatoes on an “everything” bagel. I was immediately pleased with my selection. The bagels have a perfectly dense, chewy texture, a product of the time-intensive process of proofing, boiling, and baking that goes into creating a good NY-style bagel. The “everything” bagel comes loaded with toasted garlic, poppy seed, and sesame. The garlic is a particularly nice touch, and gives the sandwich an aromatic, salty punch with every bite. The house-made cream cheese was elegant, soft, and rich, the vegetables were fresh and bright. I was especially happy to see the capers, as these tend to bring the whole sandwich together, cutting through the cream, fish, and bread and adding a unique salted briny flavor.
Morningside’s list of bagel sandwiches includes breakfast specialties with egg, bacon and cheese, a play on pizza with pepperoni and mozzarella on an Asiago bagel, and the “Hamlet” with Black Forrest ham, melted cheddar on an apple-cinnamon bagel. Plain bagel selections range from sweeter varieties such as blueberry, chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, and cranberry to more savory options such as onion, spinach-parmesan, and jalapeño. These can be topped with any of their whipped schmears that includes flavors such as honey-almond, cheddar and chives, or strawberry.
If you’re looking for a taste of The Empire State right here in The Natural State, I’d recommend grabbing the lox at Morningside. The folks running this place are dedicated to the craft of fine bagels and it’s apparent from their growing fan base the secret is getting out.
10848 Maumelle Blvd
North Little Rock