I’ve puzzled over this ever since I moved to Manhattan 10 years ago for college. Weekend afternoons often found me on a bench outside the Upper West Side stalwart Absolute Bagels, awkwardly cupping my bagel in the wax paper it was served in, trying not to drop it while I scraped away globs of excess cream cheese. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if others went through the same annoying ritual, so I recently started asking around. I’ve brought it up with friends, neighbors, and strangers at bars. I’ve asked young black women and old Jewish men. While my methods are far from scientific, my research strongly suggests that most New Yorkers agree: The cream cheese is too damn much.
Just how much are we talking about? Employees at a few Manhattan shops told me they add a quarter-pound, which is insane. A representative of Ess-a-Bagel, the East Side institution, said staff there are told to give about 3 ounces—only slightly less insane. In an article for Serious Eats last year, Max Falkowitz weighed samples from six New York City stores and found a range from 0.7 ounces, at Black Seed in Brooklyn, to 3.9 ounces, at Brooklyn Bagel in Manhattan. Absolute Bagel came in at 2.5 ounces, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite, Bagel Hole, served 1.7 ounces. Even those mid-range numbers are a lot. I ordered an everything bagel with “just a little cream cheese” at Bagel Hole a few weeks ago, and still had to tell the guy to scrape some off.
Like Edelman, if I’m ordering a bagel with cream cheese I always ask for “light” or “only a little” or something, and still get far more than I want. The full amount is just gross — not just unhealthy, but ruins the texture of the bagel.