A Deli in Disguise: The Great Barrington Bagel Co.
Judy and Marvin Lieberman at the Great Barrington Bagel Co.
If the Great Barrington Bagel Co. had hard salamis hanging from the ceiling over the counter, it would be immediately apparent that it’s more than a bakery selling sandwiches and flavored cream cheeses. But it wasn’t until I saw a sign posted for the Passover Menu—gefilte fish , charoset, tzimmes, chopped liver, brisket and macaroons—that I understood that this was a delicatessen for the diaspora—a soul kitchen. (Passover begins on the evening of April 17, and orders must be placed in advance.).
When Judy and Marvin Lieberman moved up to Great Barrington from Westchester County 17 years ago, they’d become fed up with their careers in the New York advertising world and they wanted to do something more authentic. “Marvin wanted to open a restaurant—he’s a real foodie—so we compromised on a bagel shop,” says Judy. They considered buying a franchise (like Einstein Bros. Bagels) but none of the chain bagels were as good as the bagels they remembered from growing up. “So we hired a bagel consultant,” says Marvin.
They spent six months learning how to make bagels the traditional way—boiling before baking. They learned how to balance the kitchen temperature depending on the season so the dough would rise consistently for bagels that are chewy and dense with flavor. “What the chains make are really rolls, not bagels,” says Marvin. As creative ad types, they have naturally given cute names to some of their original bagels, which are all based on traditional favorites: The “Black Russian” is a pumpernickel bagel with sesame seeds and onion; the “Blizzard” is an everything bagel with toppings on the inside, too; the “Sunnyside Up” is an everything egg bagel.
To paraphrase the old Levy’s rye bread ad, you don’t have to be Jewish to love the Great Barrington Bagel Co. or its homemade chicken soup with matzoh balls, noodles, carrots and dill. A quart ($8.50) comes with a label that reads: “The Medicinal Miracle of Jewish Cooking. Referred to by most physicians as . . . JEWISH PENICILLIN.” It’s tongue in cheek, of course, but the soup is extraordinary, a clear taste of bygone Bronx and Brooklyn dinner tables. The Liebermans are perfectly serious about their Bagel Bones, which are snacks for dogs, and their Bagel Dog, which is a Hebrew National frankfurter wrapped in bagel dough ($3.60).
There’s nothing orthodox (or kosher) about the Great Barrington Bagel Co. “Two of our summer staples are gazpacho and lobster rolls,” says Judy. “We make our lobster roll [$14.95] exactly like they do at Lunch in Amagansett. And we sell out every day in the summer. They are very popular for day-after-the-wedding brunches.” The Liebermans do a lot of catering—big platters of smoked fish and chopped liver (traditional and vegetarian) for bar mitzvahs, oneg shabbats, family reunions, and funerals. They import knishes, black-and-white cookies, and babka from New York, but they make their strudel-like rugulah in house. “You can thank my Aunt Sadie for the recipe,” says Judy.
So what does a bagel shop do during Passover when observant Jews do not eat leavened bread? “We offer matzoh with our soups and salads,” says Judy. “But our business is very diverse and we stay very busy.” Indeed, the shop is open 364 days a year. “We’re only closed Christmas Day.” Though their business goes haywire in the summer, they are pleased that they are a business where locals and tourists can eat in harmony (and pick up a copy of The New York Times.). Says Marvin: “We always wanted this to be a melting pot.”
Great Barrington Bagel Co.
777 South Main Street; 413.528.9055
Monday - Friday 7 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Saturday 7 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Sunday 7:30 a.m - 4 p.m