With Lanny Grossman as a co-writer/contributor
So everyone has been asking. What is up with that bagel shirt? Okay, maybe this one is a little out of the bagel box, so to speak. Here is the backstory: Earlier this year, there was a NY Times editorial, written by Tehal Rao, that proclaimed California had a better bagel than New York. That is a very BOLD proclamation, and one that as a longtime NYC resident, and a recent transplant to LA, got my attention. My phone was blowing up. Seriously, all 4 of my friends texted me this article, asking if I had been to the two LA bagel shops featured in the article, Courage Bagels & Pop’s Bagels. I had not. I had just moved to LA from New York City, and was still digesting all those delicious New York City bagels and pizzas.
I knew that LA had an incredible food scene. It’s sushi, Mexican and “California” cuisines are THE best. But the bagels? Don’t they have to, like, import the water from New York or something?
Now, I love bagels so much, but I try to only eat them after a great workout. Let’s call it a post-tennis reward or treat. I just googled this...They say you burn about 600-800 calories playing an hour of tennis, depending on how hard you are hitting (Note: I hit the ball very hard). An everything bagel with cream cheese is about 500 calories. If you add some lox, capers and onions (my go-to order), you are still winning, or at very least breaking even. So mathematically speaking, we are all good, man!
Along with playing tennis and eating bagels, I am also a big music guy and I am used to spending my summers going to a bunch of concerts. Since live performances have mostly been on hiatus, especially here in LA, I went on a
slightly different tour this summer, dubbing it The LA Summer Tennis Bagel Tour 6.0. Taking some tennis and bagel loving friends along for the ride, we hit the forehand freeways in search for some cream cheese and chives in Culver City, and lox love in Los Feliz. Then we made a tee shirt out of it.
But before we make that left turn up Wilshire and get stuck on the 405, I wanted to take you back to the bagel baseline...back to my New York City days.
My New York Tennis and Bagel Days
For years, I had played tennis with a group of guys every Sunday morning at Midtown Tennis in West Chelsea. I wanted to give a big shout out to the pros there. Basil, Byron- I hope you guys are doing amazingly and you got through Covid okay. Come to think of it, I always used to see you guys at the bagel shop I am about to tell y’all about, down the block from the club.
Midtown Tennis- Manhattan: Basil (left) Byron (right)
So, it pretty much became a ritual, that after our matches, we would walk down a couple of blocks on Eighth Avenue to Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Co. (https://bkbagel.com/). You would think any business in this neighborhood would use the name of the actual neighborhood? Anyway, let me tell you, we discovered that place before it was really on the NYC bagel map. Our doubles game would end at 11AM and we’d be online (yea, not “inline”) by 11:15. There would only be a handful of other people waiting. Then, maybe there was one of those Eater articles or something, and the place absolutely blew up. By the time we would show up, there’d be 100 + people stretching out along the avenue, eagerly awaiting a deliciously crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside circle of heaven. They had a million different types of cream cheese...A bit overwhelming for the inexperienced bagel nosher.
There are so many amazing bagel shops in New York. Ess-A-Bagel, Tal, Absolute on the Upper Westside. Some of the newer spots, like Montreal-style Blackseed (https://www.blackseedbagels.com/ ) and Sadelle's in Soho (https://www.sadelles.com/) were just sprouting up as I was packing my Patagonia's for palm trees. I didn’t get to try Blackseed but I had eaten at Sadelle’s once and let me tell you, it was an absolutely divine experience. So, between all the legendary bagel spots and the newcomers, New York’s bagel scene was a pretty high bar to surpass. I was a little skeptical LA can even come close.
But like true bagel ballers, we went into each point with a fresh out of the oven set of eyes. Our first tennis and bagel experience was around the corner from my apartment in Santa Monica. As much as I was ready to leave New York City, it was comforting to find some very New York-style places within a few block stretch of my Westside place. Fromin’s, Izzy’s (https://frominsdeli.com/, http://izzysdelitogo.com/), The Bagel Nosh and NY Bagel Dept. are all within walking distance. As for playing tennis, Reed Park and Douglas Park are the closest courts to me.
Playing tennis in Santa Monica
There are really a lot of places to play tennis in Santa Monica. From Ocean View Park and Marine Park on the south side of Santa Monica, to SaMo High School, Clover, Douglas, Memorial and Reed Parks scattered about this dynamic enclave of Los Angeles.
Reed Park, located on Wilshire Ave between 7th and 8th Streets, is, in my opinion, one of the best places to play. There are six hard courts. They cost $4 per hour/person for Santa Monica Residents and $5 per hour per person if you don’t reside in SaMo. They are kept in great shape and well worth trying to book a court there (Note: they book up quickly; link to system at the bottom of this blog). The online system goes live daily every morning at 8:15AM, and you can book a court up to 3 days in advance. What’s also nice about these courts, like many of the public courts in LA, they are fenced in. This way you don’t have to worry about balls constantly flying onto your court or vice versa.
Douglas Park, literally a long tennis ball throw away from my humble abode, has 2 hard courts. These are free to play on, though a little trickier, as they are permitted for coaching lessons most mornings. Don’t tell anyone, but after about 11AM and most evenings, it’s relatively quiet and the court lights stay on until late. Did I mention they are free? As a New Yorker who is approaching 2 years in LA, it still shocks me how most of the outdoor activities here are sans dinero. I guess we pay for them one way or another. Anyway!
Our Post-Tennis Bagel
New York Bagel & Deli sits right in between Reed and Douglas Parks. Walking into the bagel shop, it really feels like I’m stepping back into Pick A Bagel on Manhattan’s Upper Eastside. New York Bagel & Deli has a solid and very reasonably priced bagel. My go-to lox sandwich and a coffee is about $10. The bagels are constantly being baked on premise and are served hot, though out of habit, I still get mine toasted. Their staff is always so nice and consistent and has worked so hard through Covid. This has become my neighborhood go-to bagel spot.
Backhands and Bagels in Brentwood
Our next stop was a 7 minute drive up the road to Brentwood. The bus barely made it there but guzzled into the Barrington Rec Center parking lot. The park has 4 great hard courts, also fenced in. They are totally freeee! There is usually a wait for them during the more peak times, but I have played there a dozen or so times and have never had to wait longer than 20-30 minutes.
We played so hard that morning, we deserved an amazing bagel afterwards. Luckily, Yeastie Boys parks it’s truck around the corner every Sunday, right along San Vicente, close to Alfred (https://alfred.la/blogs/los-angeles/brentwood-1). OMG Yeastie Boys. I represent Connecticut, and was definitely not raised out in Brooklyn, but you guys truly have it goin’ on. These boys, and the fine ladies who served us, are maybe best known for their cheese and meat filled breakfast
sandwiches like the “Game Over” and “Cheddy Wap”. So what’cha, what’cha what did I want? Being the purist that I am, I went with the “Lox Deluxe ''- Lox, tomato, red onion, capers with scallion cream cheese on an everything bagel. The bagel just melts in your mouth. An important factor for me, the bagel size, was just right, and I was definitely full afterwards. Every ingredient was super fresh and can taste the deliciousness in every bite. Prices range here from $6-$13, the Lox Deluxe being on the higher end of that range. You have to fight for your right to find these guys the next time you are in LA. Awesome stuff.
Poppy Seeds in Pali
The tour continued a little further on up the road. The bagel bus was approaching the PCH, but we took a right turn off of West Channel Road and up the picturesque hills of Rustic Canyon in the Pacific Palisades. Surrounded by sheer nature and really cool multi-million dollar tree houses, Rustic Canyon Rec Center is a true (and somewhat of a hidden/local) gem. Most people know that green is my favorite color and Rustic Canyon does not disappoint us “greenophiles”. The lush and huge green trees, ivy-covered walls and crisp ocean air make Rustic Canyon a truly amazing tennis playing experience.
There are 6 hard courts and are all in solid condition. You might just see a familiar face from that show you were just watching. Oh, and guess what? They are freeee. The one caveat I would say here is that there are no lights, so be sure to come early in the Winter months. I have now played at Rustic dozens of times, and have never had to wait longer than 20-30 minutes as well.
We headed back on the bus and over to downtown Pacific Palisades. I know Noah’s is a chain, and perhaps shouldn’t get a mention amongst LA’s bagel scene. I do have to say they make a solid bagel, and the coffee is always hot and fresh. The Nova Lox Sandwich on an everything bagel doesn’t disappoint, and with a coffee is also a reasonable $10ish dollars. Plus, they throw in a bag of chips, so that is pretty nice of them!
Over the hill and forehands away
One of the pluses through Covid was the lack of traffic around LA, and I am just now getting a taste of the bumper to bumper bagels. Getting over the hill (and back) into the San Fernando Valley has been super easy and I have loved playing at a bunch of the Valley’s public and private courts. Driving out from Santa Monica on a weekend morning, we were in Sherman Oaks in 20 minutes. The largest public park in the area is the Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys Park. It is a vast park, with huge ball fields, an aquatics center, basketball, pickleball/paddle and tennis courts. There are 8 courts and costs $11 an hour. It is always a fun scene here and a lot of friendly people playing out in the Valley. My recommendation- book an early court or an evening session as the day time hours get hot out there, especially in the summer months.
So, everyone was asking...Have we checked out Hank’s yet? You gotta see Hank's baby! With its original outpost in Burbank, Hank’s was busy building out their second spot in Sherman Oaks. Every time we drove past the location on Ventura Blvd, they weren’t quite ready to open yet. We finally got there last week and it was incredible. The #3 was an easy choice for me. Decked with lox, scallion cream cheese, capers, pickled onions, radish, salted cucumber and sprouts...this bagel sandwich is an absolute delicacy. Every ingredient was super fresh. The radishes and sprouts were so pretty to look at, it was almost tough to eat them. The $15 price tag was well worth it as the sandwich has a heavy handle to it and I could barely finish it. Other bagel sandwiches at Hanks range from $10.50-$13. I will definitely be back there soon.
Courage Bagels with Lanny
Saving the two bagel spots the NY Times article featured for last-Courage and Pop’s Bagels, I took my most particular and discerning friend along for the ride, Lanny Grossman. Lanny has an opinion on just about everything, and just so happens to be a much better writer than me. We both live in Santa Monica, but in true LA fashion, we drove separately, and met out in the Los Feliz/Virgil Village neighborhood of East LA. This neighborhood, historically a bit edgier, is sort of like Manhattan's East Village back in the day. Carniceria's and auto repair shops mix in with newer and trendy places. It is a very cool area.
We didn’t make it to the tennis courts that morning, but Riverside Tennis at Griffith Park is very close by (A ten minute drive north) and I have played there a couple of times. These are paid courts at $11 per hour. The courts are older, but still in pretty good shape, and always get a fun east side crowd playing.
Back to the bagels! I will let Sir Lanny take it over with his review of Courage from here:
Lanny: It didn’t take much courage to drive to Los Feliz to try the bagels that everybody’s been talking about. After living in NYC for 20 years, bagels have become a way of life; albeit one that’s mostly missing here in LA. Courage’s menu is pretty small, handwritten on a piece of paper in the window. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes, it was my turn to order without asking too many questions, so the line could keep moving. My “Run it through the Garden” on an everything bagel came out shortly thereafter.
Pop’s Bagels with Lanny, By Lanny
Our next stop was at Pop's Bagels. They have two locations, with the OG spot in Culver City within The Platform (https://platformlosangeles.com/) and the newly minted location in Brentwood.
Lanny, take this over for me.
Lanny: Like any other addict, after getting my Courage fix, we had to try out Pop’s Bagels, another talked about spot with two locations in Culver City and Brentwood. This time we were smart enough to order ahead so it was ready when we arrived allowing us to skip the long line. An everything bagel topped with lox and veggie cream cheese greeted me on this Sunday morning. This bagel was more evenly texturized. Although a slightly crisp outside and doughy inside, it was easy to rate Courage’s bagel ahead of this one immediately.
I realized that Courage’s secret is the topping of lemon juice which adds to the moistness and offers a slight acidity to compliment the saltiness of the fish and capers. Pop’s bagels were smaller in diameter and thicker but nicely stacked as well. Although perfectly delicious, I did not walk away from Pop’s with the same fervor I had the day before at Courage.
Thank you Sir Lanny.
In summarizing this very salmon and slice filled blog, there are a ton of great tennis and bagel options in our amazing city of Los Angeles. LA’s bagel influences are as vast as the city, stretching from New York, to Montreal to east of the 101. We loved every bagel place we ate at, and will definitely be back at all of them.
As much as I love and miss the guys at Midtown Tennis in Manhattan, tennis in LA just pales in comparison. The year-round great weather, the access to very cheap or free public courts are just very hard to compete with. It's also relatively easy to find someone who knows someone with a private court, so there's that too.
Breaking this down in a couple of fun ways, here is where we are at.
Most likely place to drive an hour and wait another hour for a bagel: Courage Bagels. A truly special place and a must try when visiting LA, or if you are living here but have yet to try.
Best everyday bagel, if we were to eat one every day: New York Bagel & Deli.
Best overall tennis experience: Rustic Canyon
The Tour (with Links):
Reed and Douglas Park to NY Bagel & Deli
Barrington Rec Center to Yeastie Boys Food Truck
Rustic Canyon Rec Center to Noah’s Bagels
Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys Courts to Hank’s Bagels
Riverside Tennis to Courage Bagels
NY Times & The Infatuation Links: