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Los Angeles sees its fair share of dining trends. Often, they’re informed by an obsession with healthy living and fit physiques, and carbs can have trouble finding friends in the city as a result. Yet against all odds, in the heart of keto country, the latest mega-trend is built all around dough: In March, The New York Times turned heads by proclaiming California the bagel capital of the U.S. and noting Courage Bagels and Pop’s Bagel’s in Los Angeles.
Phil Rosenthal barely batted an eye. The Queens native, Everybody Loves Raymond creator and star of Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil has spent decades bouncing between the culinary specialties of his hometown and his adoptive one in L.A. If forced to choose, he sides with the latter. For him, the Times recognition was an overdue coronation — and it ought to go beyond just bagels: Beautiful bread has been baking here for generations. Here, the Emmy-winning producer sings an ode to the places keeping the city a haven for gluten and reveals the longest he’s ever waited in line to eat a hot dog.
What is going on with the L.A. food scene at the moment?
We’re in the midst of a dough renaissance. Everybody always pooh-poohed the bread, the pizza, saying the water is bad. And that’s a total fallacy. The whole water thing is bullshit because a good baker adjusts for the difference — not just for water but for the altitude, humidity, everything.
Is there a particular place where your carb quest begins and ends?
Courage Bagels is the reinvention of the bagel. That’s no small thing. This is a different bagel. And at the moment it’s my favorite. I think it was inspired by Montreal. But, then, there’s very little Montreal-ish about it. This is its own thing. It’s like literally reinventing the wheel.
How is it built differently, exactly?
The model is a baguette — though it’s not as hard on the outside as a baguette. It has a light crispness to it. In fact, the whole thing has a lightness to it. Imagine a light, crisp thing with some artisanal kind of burnt spots around it, of an imperfect side, because each one is obviously handmade. And the inside — that is like a baguette.
Do you put anything on it?
They have cream cheese, lox, tomato, onion, capers — best versions of all of that I’ve ever had. And that’s saying something. They artisanally source every ingredient. So if you just have it hot out of the oven with butter, it’s going to be the best butter you’ve ever had on the best bagel you’ve ever had. And that’s why people are waiting hours in line to get these things.
What’s the longest you’ve ever waited in line for food?
I accidentally waited at [now-closed] Hot Doug’s in Chicago. I love hot dogs. And I had been there originally with [three Michelin-starred] Grant Achatz of Alinea. I wanted to go back with my wife. After the taxi dropped us off, I realized that there was an hour-and-a-half wait. It was actually pleasant. We made friends in line. The anticipation of it, maybe it makes it taste even better. Appetite is the best seasoning.
Where else do you go for baked goods in Los Angeles?
Nicole Rucker [of Fat & Flour] makes incredible pies and pastries. République has incredible bread. Tartine; Huckleberry Café; Valerie Confections, Malibu Kitchen. There’s so many great bakeries here now. Then for more traditional bagel spots you’ve got Wexler’s — their toppings are very good. And Brent’s is fine — a very good deli all around.
What about sandwiches and pizzas?
Howlin’ Ray’s is the best sandwich I’ve ever had. We have a tremendous pizza scene. I would dare even say it’s better here than in New York. Mozza and Pizzana — those guys are frickin’ geniuses. I would put that up against anything coming out of New York.
There’s this stereotype that LA is completely carb-phobic. Why do you think carbs are having a moment here right now?
Well, there’s a right carb. Everybody cheats on a diet. We know that eating too much red meat is not good for you. But steakhouses are packed every night. Why? Because if we’re going to go out for a special occasion it’s going to be the thing that we don’t eat all the time. If I’m going to eat a carb this week, it’s going to be the best carb. And I don’t know about everybody else, but for me, during COVID lockdown I kept thinking, “This could be the end of the world, I’m just going to eat whatever the fuck I want.”
Anything else you’d like to add to infuriate your home city even more?
There’s this thing about New York — I think because it’s so hard to live there — you constantly look for reasons to explain and justify it. I say this as a proud New Yorker. I will always be from New York. I love going there. But I ain’t moving back. The L.A. food scene has now surpassed New York, I have to be honest. At this exact moment, the pendulum could swing back, but there are more people in New York being influenced by what’s happening in L.A. right now than vice versa.
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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