Josh Pollack Is on a Roll With Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen
Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen
Danielle Lirette Owner Josh Pollack makes bagels in the kitchen. Check out more photos from Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen.
725 East 26th Avenue
To make the perfect bagel, you need three key components: a great recipe, a flexible process managed by a knowledgeable bagel maker, and New York water, says Josh Pollack. That's a very specific formula, but it seems accurate -- at least judging from the customers who wait in winding lines at Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen. Last month, sixty people rushed over after the Facebook announcement that Pollack's place was finally open: Denver has been waiting a long time for a good bagel.
See also: Behind the Scenes at Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen
Danielle Lirette The interior of Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen.
"I thought they were really good," says Rachel McKim, a New Jersey native who now lives in San Francisco and had just chowed down an egg-and-cheese bagel sandwich. "They were chewy on the inside and could have been a little crunchier on the outside. But the best in the West Coast so far."
Pollack would agree that his bagels aren't yet perfect: He's still trying to master the "roll with a hole," he says, which is achieved when the bottom and the top look identical. But he's done a lot of research, and spent a lot of money, to get his bagels as close to perfection as possible.
Pollack grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City, and lived off kosher-style bagels from neighborhood delis, including Ronnie's Hot Bagels and Cafe, which was about a mile from his house. The owner there would give neighborhood kids bagels whenever they got As on their report cards. Pollack named a sandwich after that philanthropist: Ronnie's Favorite, which tops a bagel with dill cream cheese, cucumber, Scottish smoked salmon and whitefish salad. "Without him, I don't know if I would have done this," says Pollack.
When he decided to leave a career in the finance industry and dive into the bagel biz, Pollack went to northern New Jersey to work with his mentor, Bobby Shorr, who owns Harold's Kosher Deli and a number of Bagel Emporiums. Pollack had worked at the deli as a teenager and was paid in food, which he took with him when he enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "I was the most popular kid in the dorms, with bagels, lox and corned beef," he remembers.
When he returned to Jersey in 2012, he worked at Shorr's Bagel Emporium in search of knowledge, not free food. "Even though [making bagels is] a science, you do need to feel it out. Every situation is different. It could be hotter or more humid, and you have to adjust," says Pollack. "But working next to these guys who've been doing it for thirty years made me more comfortable. There's stuff that you can't read in a book."
Danielle Lirette The Standard on an everything bagel at Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen.
Carrying hundred-year-old recipes from Harold's and another classic bagel place, Goldberg's, Pollack returned to Colorado and enrolled at the Cook Street School of Fine Cooking, where he created his own recipe. But the right recipe alone won't make a perfect bagel: Pollack knew that people had tried making New York-style bagels and pizza in Denver for decades and had trouble mastering the dough. "People have heard for years that pizza and bagels are better in New York because of the water, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it," he says.
So he got permission from New York and New Jersey water-treatment facilities to take samples of their water, and shipped them to Colorado State University for testing. A couple of weeks and $40 later, he had the molecular structure of New York's water. And it was, in fact, different from Denver's water in a few ways that were significant to baking.
Generally, because New York's water is treated with UV light and fewer sediment filters, it has more TDS, or total dissolved solids -- which simply means it has more minerals, Pollack says. He researched those minerals and found that two dominant ones affect the baking process: calcium and magnesium, "super glutens" that enhance the strength of gluten. "Bagels and pizza dough are the most gluten-heavy dough," he explains. "Without that strong gluten, the crust would crack."
There are magnesium- and calcium-rich flours, and some businesses will actually ship out New York water, but Pollack wasn't interested in either option. "I figure you might as well go traditional and not have to change the recipe," he says.
So he decided to build a system that would re-create New York water.
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