Meet Ezra: A New York bagel kitchen feels right at home in Prague

The family-run business was born of necessity (pregnancy cravings) and satisfies a hole in the market for a great big garlicky bagel with a schmear

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas
Published on 07.09.2020 14:54 (updated on 07.09.2020)

During the second trimester of her pregnancy, Chelsea Phillips, a New Yorker living in Prague since 2016, started craving bagels. And not just any bagels, the quintessential variety of her youth: chewy with a touch of garlic, the kind that you need both hands to eat.

With a big hole on the local market for a decent bagel, there was just one thing left to do: start baking. Together with her husband Giuseppe Catanzariti, Phillips managed to bake a batch of NYC-style bagels in their Letná kitchen. Eventually, a new enterprise — and their now 3-month-old-son Ezra — was born.

“We recently had 100 customers in 12 days,” says Catanzariti of the interest in Ezra Bagels since launching its website and social media channels in August. “Now we’re waking up at 5 am making bagels.”

The couple seems to have tapped into an expat market starved for an everything bagel with a schmear. The Czech capital’s longest-running bagel shop, Bohemia Bagel, was recently shuttered; its bakery is still active and stocks local cafés.

It wasn’t just the lack of availability that Phillips missed but the experience of buying bagels by the dozen.

Bagels with pink onions / Photo via Ezra Bagels

“Bakeries here won’t sell you just a bagel,” she says. “I grew up in a city where you were able to get a big paper bag filled with bagels. There’s just something about bringing the bag home and the way it fills the whole house with the smell of garlic, that’s part of it.”

While on the hunt for the perfect bagel to satisfy Phillips’ cravings, the spouses found that many of the bagels available in Prague shops and bakeries leaned more toward the Montreal style, rings of dough topped mostly with poppyseeds. The mom-to-be longed for the chewier crumb that comes with boiling.

Phillips and Catanzariti, a photographer and writer respectively come by their food cred honestly. As an Italian-American, cooking was at the heart of Catanzariti’s upbringing, while Phillips spent her childhood in hotel and restaurant kitchens with family members who worked in the food industry. She even remembers attending bagel-themed school trips.

“We actually got taken to bagel shops as kids,” Phillips recalls, “And we’d get premade doubt and they’d teach us how to roll it.”

A bagel in progress / Photo Ezra Bagels

Catanzariti who hails from Boston and has lived and traveled extensively with Phillips for work doesn’t see the scarcity of bagels in their adopted city as a Prague problem but rather a Europe-wide issue. “We found something passable in Paris,” he says of their ongoing search to satisfy their craving for the East Coast comfort food while abroad.

All a bit ironic considering that the first bagel appeared in Poland in the 14th century, imported by German migrants in the guise of thick, bready pretzels that eventually morphed into a round roll with a hole in the middle.

The bagel’s Jewish history derives from the 1500s, an era known as the Nobles Democracy when Poland, also somewhat ironically, was considered a bastion of tolerance. During this time it became one of the first European countries to allow Jews, typically banned from commercial baking, to bake and sell bread.

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In the US in the 20th century, bagels became associated with Jewish culture thanks to the Eastern European communities that populated the city’s Lower East Side and, like knishes and pastrami on rye, have been considered consummate New York eats ever since.

The Ezra bagel is based on a New York recipe with a Prague twist. It is first shaped into a round and then a hole is inserted. It’s boiled like an NYC bagel but glazed with soy milk for the standard varieties, and coconut oil for the sweet varieties. (The couple debunks the theory that the secret to New York bagels is in the water. “Prague water isn’t good for hair but it works just fine for bagels,” says Phillips).

While developing their bagels the couple was delighted to discover that Czech onions turn pink when grated. They were also impressed by the strong Czech-grown garlic which they’ve begun sourcing from a local grower.

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Phillips and Catanzariti have relied on customer feedback to hone their recipe, adjusting the amount of salt they were using in the earlier batches and playing around with water levels.

Despite seeing themselves as bagel purists the duo has been getting creative, adding specials like champagne and strawberry and blood mary to the menu. They’re also playing around with a “bagelník,” a take on that Central European tourist fave the trdelník, which they concocted from leftover bagel dough baked on a beer can.

Bagelettes / Photo via Ezra Bagels

We ordered a baker’s dozen of the standard bagels, sesame seed, garlic, onion, and everything. Dense and chewy, I’ve never had anything quite like it in Prague — fitting them into my toaster was the only challenge.

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While pick up is by pre-order from Letenské náměstí, the couple says they have dreams of expanding.

“Initially we just wanted to make some extra money,” says Catanzariti. “Our rent went up, we’d just had a baby and we were getting less work because of COVID.” But with the overwhelming response, they say that a physical location is a realistic goal.

Vegans, they also offer up some tips for plant-based toppings (tofu cream cheese from Country Life and the carrot lox from Vegan World) and say they have one cardinal rule when it comes to enjoying their bagels:

“Don’t scoop out the bagel,” says Phillips of the practice of eating just the crust. “We just don’t condone it!”

Ezra Bagels
To place an order visit their website.
You can also follow them on Facebook / Instagram