Opening your brick and mortar during a pandemic is a bit of a challenge, but taking additional precautions, observing social distancing, offering multiple contactless payment methods, and making really damn good bagels has made it work for Luke’s New York Bagels. If you’ve been following my Instagram, you’ll know that I have a deep obsession with these carb bombs. Like a nice egg from Frank Reynolds, they are keeping my spirits up in these trying times. It’s also why I’m going to write this review now. We all need a little speck of normalcy in our lives, don’t we?
Luke’s is another wonderful story of seeing a need, starting off small, and crescendoing into a brick and mortar location. In the beginning, Luke Vescovi saw a need. He along with his parents are New Jersey transplants, having been brought here by the University of Florida. Luke’s mother, Carolyn, also happens to have worked at a popular New Jersey bagel spot and developed a recipe 30 years in the making. A perfect storm was brewing and they were soon selling small batches of bagels out of the Halo Potato Donuts storefront. There was a bit of trial and error in the beginning, but then those small batches became slightly less small, and soon they were selling out within a couple hours. Something of a cult following was developing, and I was front and center worshipping that round brown gluten buddy. Enough traction warranted a lease at the former LEJ Pretzel location at 620 South Main Street, and it was full speed ahead.
Even during non-pandemic times, the location does not offer indoor seating, and has limited outdoor tables. It’s strictly a take-out window setup, so be prepared to take your bagels to go and enjoy them at home. Signage is still a work in progress, and there’s no shade to wait beneath once that Florida Sun kicks into full-on death mode, but none of this matters.
That’s because these are legit bomb ass bagels. They’re properly boiled and baked to a perfect golden color, with the snappy crunch you want on the outside, and just the right amount of chewiness and density on the inside without being undercooked. The hole in the middle is barely a hole because it’s so big and poofy like any good bagel you find in the Garden State or New York City itself. When fresh, you don’t/shouldn’t need to toast them at all (but you can if you’re feeling saucy). Just slice and enjoy with a generous spread of their homemade cream cheese to make for a delectable breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack, whatever…you can eat bagels anytime.
With apologies to Bagel Bakery, whom I still love but whose bagels can be doughy and underdone sometimes, these are the best New York-style bagels I’ve had not just in Gainesville – but anywhere in Florida. They’ve gone as far as to bring in a New York Watermaker, to condition the water used in their recipe to achieve the mineral levels and “softness” of NYC water. Personally, I think that while there are some effects on gluten and flavor due to the properties of the water there, it’s a little overblown. But hey, couldn’t hurt right? According to the makers of the machine, they are the only bagel shop in Florida to use it.
Your classic flavors are all on the menu; plain, sesame, poppy, everything, jalapeno, cinnamon raisin. But they are also doing egg bagels in plain and everything form, as well as a French Toast bagel. Both of which were previously not available here. Homemade cream cheese flavors currently include plain, strawberry, onions & chives, and a tofu vegan option. Both of these offerings will be expanding in the future to include various breakfast sandwiches, as well as the popular New Jersey pork roll sandwich. I’m one of those people who refers to it as a Taylor Ham sandwich, but I was told “pork roll is the right way to say it” so…I digress.
The legend of Luke’s is growing fast, and rightfully so. If you haven’t already tried these bagels, you really should check them out (while practicing safe social distance, of course). Venmo and tap-to-pay options are available, and their employees are wearing gloves and facemasks. As a fake New Yorker who loves food, I vouch for these being as close to the real thing as you can get ‘round these parts.
Right now, the shop is open from Wednesdays to Sundays from 7 AM until they sell out (they sell out fast). You can also make pre-orders by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got about 8 of them sliced up in my freezer, and I’m about to enjoy a delectable breakfast. Stay safe, you beautiful people.