Using authentic methods and ingredients—right down to the water—Rosenberg’s recreates a New York experience in Five Points.
ROSENBERG’S BAGELS & DELICATESSEN
This catholic kid from Arvada came to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado and was adopted by the Kauvar family, who ran the Tulagi nightclub—and Herbie’s Deli above it. Matriarch Gilda fed me my first lox and bagel, and it was “goy meets girl.” I was instantly an honorary member of the tribe, a victim of her schmear campaign.
I won’t pretend to know as much as New York transplants, but I’m heavily invested in a quest for a decent New York-style “roll with a hole” in the Mile High City. Not the mushy pre-bagged variety found in grocery stores, but a real bagel—sturdy and crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.
And so my new best friend is Joshua Pollack, “the bagel man.” Josh opened the doors of Rosenberg’s Delicatessen last summer in the Five Points area after years of research and months of construction, spending a lot of…well, dough.
“A real bagel is boiled,” he explained during a recent visit. “That’s the difference between what we do and thousands of supermarkets or Einstein’s. Those are steamed. You have to boil the bagel to get the right consistency and texture.”
Born and raised in New Jersey, Josh is a fellow CU alum. He returned to Jersey to find what makes a good bagel, studying at classic NYC establishments such as Katz’s Deli, Ross & Daughters, Harold’s Kosher Deli and Bagel Emporium.
“Even in New York, some bagels are better than others. In the beginning, I would travel back from there with a jug of water to bake a test batch of bagels and make side-by-side comparisons. People who aren’t as crazy about them as I am wouldn’t know about the minor tweaks in water, but it’s just five ingredients. It’s not the crazy flavors, it’s the interaction between them.”
Josh also attended classes at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts and eventually found three components: One, a great hundred-year-old recipe from Harold’s; and two, a flexible process with the traditional equipment and procedures.
“I was a business student, so I understand efficiencies and cost issues,” he said. “The giant 8’ x 8’ oven and kettle are big, bulky pieces of old-school equipment that people shy away from—they take up space, they’re labor intensive and they’re time consuming.
“But that’s what we use. It’s not automated; it’s up to the person making the bagels by rolling the dough, then ‘proofing’ them overnight—that’s the procedure that allows yeast to form all the flavor. There’s a thermostat and humidistat in the room, to adjust the atmosphere—it’s drier here, so it takes three times longer to proof the bagels. After they’re boiled, they’re cooled and put on wet burlap over bake boards and baked on rotating racks in the 500-degree oven for a couple of rotations, which allows the top part to dry out. The perfect bagel should not have a flat side—the bottom and the top look identical.”
The third component? Josh figured out how to replicate the mineral content of New York water. He got samples from water-treatment facilities and the aqueduct supplying New York and had them tested at CSU to determine the parts per million. He found that it was richer in calcium and magnesium than Denver’s water, so he built a reverse osmosis filtration system that hangs on the wall in the kitchen. It strips Denver tap water of its natural content—“We’re left with distilled water”—and replaces it with the NYC formula. “It’s not magic, just different levels,” he contends.
I disagree. There is some serious sorcery going on at Rosenberg’s (his late mother’s maiden name). The bagels come in the expected varieties: plain, sesame, poppy seed, salt, garlic, etc. My initial order was never in doubt. Gimme the Standard—a bagel (I went with the yolk-colored egg variety) slathered with cream cheese, a tomato slice, red onion and capers with gravlax. I hope Josh is never robbed, because he can’t change the lox.
All of the fish is incredible—four types of salmon, plus black cod, herring, whitefish and more, smoked and cured in house (except the gravlax, which isn’t smoked). “We’ve done a lot of cold smoking of such a variety of fish, and no one else does it,” Josh said. “We think it’s the best in the world, and we want to source to other restaurants.”
He also imports corned beef and other meats from the Big Apple’s Old World Provision. The L.E.S. (onion bagel layered with hot pastrami, coleslaw, Swiss cheese and Ba-Tampte deli mustard) and the Reuben (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on a pumpernickel bagel) are magnificent, perfecting the classic savory balance. Even the kosher dill pickles on the side had the perfect pickling spice combination (I was able to identify bay leaves and mustard seeds).
Rosenberg’s also serves salads and breakfast sandwiches. If you’re wondering if all this is Kosher, you’ll find the answer in “The Heart Attack” (pictured below) —a butter griddled bagel with Tender Belly bacon, sausage, Taylor ham, American and Cheddar cheeses and a fried egg—and in the ham and Swiss that define the slyly named “Don’t Tell Ya Mother.”
Josh also brought in pastry chef Jay Thomas to make classic Jewish treats like hamenstaschen, rugelach and babka. My two fave desserts are the mini kugel, a sweet noodle pudding full of goodness, and the Rainbow Cookie—the Italian variation with three layers of sponge cake made with almond paste, tied together with raspberry jam.
“There’s a connection between Jewish and Italian delicatessens,” Josh noted. “The families all immigrated at the same time to the Lower East Side, people on top of people, everyone showing everyone else how to do things.” He wants to add blintzes and apple turnovers to express the full span of the Jewish pastry scene.
Favorites like Zapp’s Voodoo Chips (a regional brand available in Louisiana) and Dr. Brown’s sodas in varieties from black cherry to Cel-Ray (celery-flavored) are the finishing touches for die-hard deli aficionados seeking a haven.
“As we expand the kitchen, we want to make everything in house, including our own cream cheese,” Josh enthused. “Someone else will make a water machine for bagels some day. I want to be known for the rest.”
He’s already known for the best. 7
25 East 26th Ave., Denver.; 720-440-9880; rosenbergsbagels.com