It’s the Water: Can a Bagel in Boca Taste of NYC Terroir?

The Brooklyn winner of SeriousEats local bagel taste-off. Photo and story in the New York Daily News.

We’re still pretty tickled by the article in Monday’s New York Times about the Florida lawsuit over New York City tapwater.

Or from our perspective, what makes a city slice taste like a city slice or a Brooklyn bagel — say the small, chewy rounds from Park Slope’s beloved Bagel Hole — taste like a Brooklyn bagel. (If, old-timers might point out, such a thing really exists these days.)

In a nutshell, two Florida companies, The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. and Famous New York Baking Water Corp., both produce New York City “tap water,” making bagels, bottled water and other products using a treatment system that supposedly renders a glass of Florida tap more like one from Flushing. In other words, mainly taking it from hard water to soft water, which contains fewer minerals.

The Original, for which Larry King has served as promoter, claims the Famous, run by a former employee, stole their “14-step” process and sold their water to Mamma Mia’s Trattoria & Brick Oven Pizzeria in Lake Worth, whom they promptly sued. Mamma’s, of course, promptly counter-sued.

Personally, we like to think that New York City terroir is more than a lack of calcium and magnesium ions, and includes the place, the person serving you, the feel of the city and the sound of the street. But maybe we’re wrong. More from the Times piece: “Joe Lograsso, the owner of Mamma Mia’s, said he bought a $20,000 filtration and water-softening system because ‘the urban legend is that New York water makes a difference.’ He was convinced months ago after making two batches of test pizzas, one with Lake Worth hard-water dough, the other with dough soaked in New York-style soft water. ‘It was half of the weight, it was much lighter, crispier, and there was much more flavor to the pizza,’ he said, calling the change ‘mind boggling.’

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.