Sunday, August 25, 2013

Round Food for Every Mood (2/2): Tompkins Square Bagels

TL;DR: ★★★

Had high expectations, but it was mediocre at best. Spreads are delicious, but the bagels are tough and chewy.

Food: ★★★
Ambiance: ★★
Staff: ★★★

Price: $
Number of visits: 1

165 Ave. A (Between 10th and 11th St.)

Alright, time for a "meh" post. 

I've been on some sort of bagel craze lately — after having recently tried Ess-A-Bagel's apple cinnamon cream cheese, I've been hooked on bagels and flavored cream cheese (will probably do a rave post on Ess-A-Bagel at some point). And for the sake of broadening my scope of NYC restaurants, I decided to give Tompkins Square Bagels, which actually received a lot of positive reviews on Yelp, a try. 

At the risk of seeming like an idiot — or a NY bagel noob at best — here's how my experience at Tompkins went. 

I stopped by on a Sunday morning around 11 a.m. and saw that the place was already quite packed with a sizable (but not annoyingly huge) line. The line started toward the back by some tables, where an employee was standing and taking orders. I got a quick glance of the display case with the spreads on my way to the back of the line, and thinking that what was in the case was all that was available — as the menu was not visible from where I was standing — I decided on a combination of chocolate chip cookie dough cream cheese and mixed berry cream cheese on a whole wheat bagel.

That was a mistake. Here's why: 

Before heading out to Tompkins, I, of course, looked through several reviews and photographs on Yelp, hoping to find a menu or some kind of information on what kinds of spreads they had (available flavored cream cheeses weren't listed on their website). I saw a few pictures of bagels that had two kinds of spreads on one bagel, each on one side (e.g., strawberry on the left and blueberry on the right), and thought that this was an option Tompkins had for any combination of the flavored cream cheeses (I later found out that Ess-A-Bagel has this too, specifically for strawberry and blueberry; I think it's a pretty common thing for bagel places). 

Turns out I was very wrong. This is still a guess, but the two-cream cheese option goes only for two specific combinations: strawberry/blueberry and chocolate chip/espresso — I noticed this when I saw these options on their chalkboard menu after I had put in my order. 

Seeing these on the menu also clarified the puzzled look the employee who took my order gave me. When I ordered, I first asked could do two flavors on one bagel, and she responded with something like, "We're not really supposed to do this, but I'll put it in." I thought this was strange as the reviews on Yelp made it seem this was a regular, acceptable option. 

But what was done had been done — the order already went in, and it would have been rude/annoying of me to try to change it. If I had a chance to change it, though, I would've because I got charged an extra $1.50 when I got to the cash register. Confused, I asked why the total came out to $5, and the cashier told me it was because of the second cream cheese. I was mildly annoyed but obviously had no choice but to comply. 

After I paid, I stood toward the exit, along the right wall, where other customers were waiting for their order. Their service was neither super quick nor painstakingly slow. The staff members were also neither bad nor amazingly helpful.

I excitedly brought the bagel home to enjoy it with some fresh orange juice and my book, but when I opened up the HUGE, wrapped-up bagel, my heart sank a little (is this too dramatic for food talk?). To my unpleasant surprise, they had spread the two cream cheese on top of each other and sandwiched them, as opposed to side by side like in the photos of the Yelp reviews. So, not only did I have to pay extra, but I also had to try to divide the sandwiched opposing flavors before biting into the bagel. 

Whole wheat bagel with chocolate chip cookie dough cream cheese on top half and mixed berry cream cheese on bottom half

I soon got over the annoyance, though, because I was still eager to try the unusual cream cheeses. The chocolate chip was DIVINE — it's crack spread. It was very sweet but still maintained the slight tanginess from the cheese, and the chocolate disks that were distributed throughout had a great crunch (you could tell that they used good-quality chocolate too). 

Although, I should note that I can see some people not liking this as much because it kind of turns the bagel into a dessert rather than something you'd have for breakfast. But since I'm a sweets-loving person who doesn't mind having dessert all day, every day, this was not a problem for me. 

As for the mixed berry cream cheese, this one was a lot less exciting. It was definitely tangier and tarter than the chocolate chip (which is why splitting the bagel was essential — imagine the two together, ew), but it was also kind of bland, and the flavors of the berries weren't as pronounced as I would've liked. Since this was kind of a disappointment, I really really wished that I had gone for the chocolate chip/espresso combination as that 1) sounds great, 2) would've saved me $1.50 and 3) would not have required me to be bagel Moses. 

The real reason for the "meh" rating here comes from the bagel itself. While I love how enormous the bagels are, it's hard to appreciate them if the quality is subpar. I was unexpectedly found the bagel too chewy and tough — it felt like I was gnawing at a big hunk of rubber. The crust was also a little too tough and crunchy, and instead of providing a contrast of texture like good bagels do (when juxtaposed to the soft and doughy inside), the bagel felt stale and dry. Thank God the cream cheeses were good because they really saved the bagel for me. 

Overall, Tompkins Square Bagels is a decent place for a quick breakfast or snack fix. I guess I would give it another try someday, but I would rather take my business elsewhere to satisfy my lately massive bagel hankering.


  1. glad you agree that the bagels here are subpar, surprised you still gave them a three!

    i have only been here once when they first opened, was so underwhelmed I never went back.

    Sad thing is, EV can really use a great bagel shop. Surprised something like Murrays or Zuckers has not opened up down there yet.

  2. you need to give people some ways to follow you on here? wheres your instagram or a mailing list?

    1. Hi Lawrence,

      Thanks so much for your comments and suggestions! I'm definitely working on trying to get my blog out there. I'll look into setting up a mailing list, etc. :)