From the boys behind Nolita and Burough comes the only bagel place in the metro. L.E.S Bagels is a big and tasty bite out of New York itself
WORDS BY: JJ YULO | PHOTOGRAPHED BY MICHELLE V. AYUYAO
Here are three facts about L.E.S. Bagels:
1. It’s literally pronounced “L” “E” “S” Bagels and not “Les” Bagels. There is no one named Les behind this bagel shop.
2. A “schmear” is apparently a Yiddish word for “a small amount of a condiment applied to food” (according to the Urban Dictionary, also as explained by the chef—native New Yorker Cuit Kauffman—and L.E.S. does not do bagels with “schmear” but rather bagels with cream cheese.
3. L.E.S. was built on the strength of . . . cream cheese.
Yes, no. 3 is where the story behind Manila’s only bagel specialist really begins.
Chef Cuit, a Jewish gent and one of the owners as well, (together with some fellow gents from the Borough group—Patrick Santos and Alberto Besa) after having spent some time here cooking for locals, made an interesting observation: every time Pinoys see cream cheese, they squeal with glee.
Think about it—you can find cream cheese (with garlic) on burgers. Cooks will hide cream cheese in fried stuff, and get hugs from diners. You know it—we’re a cream-cheese nation.
So why not a concept anchored on cream cheese—which is exactly what a classic New York bagel joint is. Enter L.E.S. and you will see several mountains of flavored cream cheese (like bacon jalapeño, veggie, strawberry, or apple), all waiting for you to gobble up with their selection of assorted bagels (sesame, onion, pumpernickel, even chocolate!). Mix and match as you please, have the bagel toasted if you wish, and go to town.
Kauffman is right—they do not give you a schmear, they give you a rather generous slather is more like it. It’s not something you want to eat before your Zumba/Crossfit class—it might just drive you back to bed. But it is satisfying and will fuel your day for sure.
But it doesn’t end with bagels and cream cheese here—not at all—you can indulge in many other things.
Sticking to what he knows and grew up with, the good chef Cuit’s menu will also ply you with sandwiches, including variants made with house-made lox and pastrami. Wash them down with a classic beverage: the egg cream, made of milk, syrup, and soda water.
The other ace up their sleeve, albeit not as obvious, is actually the desserts and pastry selection.
Again the Jewish/New York influences are evident, with rugelach leading the pack. A cousin of sorts of the croissant, it’s a crescent-shaped dough wrapped around fillings, like chocolate for instance, and is ubiquitous in classic Jewish delis. In the restaurant’s very short two-month existence, the buzz from their customers about these little treats has been increasing.
L.E.S. does Godzilla-sized brownies too, and can give our doughnut shops a run for their money as well. The few variants they have are exemplary, like lemon, or strawberry-filled. All these fun details are rounded up by a fine coffee program from quality Aussie brand Vittoria, found in some of the city’s better restaurants and cafes.
All in all, this little pocket of New York culture is definitely a niche product waiting to explode into the mainstream. Already, homesick New Yorkers of all persuasions flock here for their bagel fix.
Not bad for something built on the premise of cream cheese.
L.E.S. Bagels is located at Tuscany Residences, Upper McKinley Road, McKinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio. Call (02) 804 0423.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NOVEMBER 2013 ISSUE OF ROGUE