051016hotbagel7A bacon cheeseburger deluxe on an everything bagel, above, and a chocolate chip bagel with a schmear of Nutella cream cheese, below, at Hot Bagels Brooklyn’s Finest.  (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)


051016hotbagels1James Beard, “the dean of American cookery” according to the New York Times, once said that “too few people understand a really good sandwich.”

Nikos Zaires and Mike Gambale, owners of Hot Bagels Brooklyn’s Finest in Red Bank, understand, and they’re turning that humble sandwich into a higher art, making creative use of quality ingredients layered on fresh baked bagels and other bread varieties in their month-old deli.
051016hotbagels3 The “healthy choice” bagel is topped with fresh spinach.  (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

Both are second-generation bagel bakers, though Zaires’ entry into the business was a bit delayed. His father, Vasilios “Billy” Zaires, who perfected his own bagel recipe at Hot Bagels and Bialys in Brooklyn over the last 40 years, “didn’t want more than one of his boys going into the business,” said Zaires. So instead, the younger man got a master’s in business management and “went into retail banking in a bad economy.” But when his father opened another store, “I worked there and learned this business instead.”

Gambale worked in his aunt’s bagel store in Staten Island, and has a brother in the bagel business in Brooklyn, “so this isn’t new to me,” he said.

The two have known each other for years, and at a family barbecue last summer, came up with a plan to open their own place, using the same bagel recipe used in the Deal bakery.

“It’s crunchy outside, but airy inside,” Gambale says.

Hot Bagels Brooklyn’s Finest opened a month ago, taking over a vacant space on the triangular corner of Broad Street and Maple Avenue that’s previously been a filling station, a used-car lot, a scooter dealership and a gold-buying business.

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There, a visitor finds numerous bagel varieties, ranging from sweet — as in chocolate chip or raisin walnut —  to savory “everything” bagels covered in poppy and sesame seed, salt, garlic and onion. Unadorned bagels go for $1 each or $12 for 14.

The cream cheese mixtures are made in house, and in addition to the familiar vegetable fusion and lox blends, Zaires and Gambale have some tantalizing new ones to schmear, such as jalapeno, olive, and strawberry. A surprising spread of Nutella cream cheese on a chocolate chip bagel delivered a tangy-sweet new flavor profile.

No mere quick-eat, the bacon cheeseburger deluxe ($8.85) on an everything bagel was thick and juicy. Covered in melted American cheese, slices of bacon, shredded lettuce, thinly sliced raw onion and tomato, the sturdy bagel didn’t fall apart. This lip-smacking heavyweight is a hungry-man’s dream.

The “healthy choice” sandwich, at $4.75, was almost as large and indeed a more diet-conscious option, packing egg whites, melted Swiss cheese, Boar’s Head turkey breast and fresh sautéed spinach onto a chewy bagel.

The menu also features salad platters, including a traditional Caesar with or without grilled chicken breast, a Greek salad, and a chef’s salad. An apple-cranberry-walnut salad comes on a bed of fresh spinach and is accented with feta cheese.

Basic cold-cut sandwiches round out the lunch menu. Breakfast sandwiches and platters that include Mexican, Greek and western omelets are also available.

Six two-seater cafe tables in the front of the deli offer eat-in possibilities.

Hot Bagels Brooklyn’s Finest is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven day a week. Free delivery is offered. 732-842-1397