Tali’s Bagels Brings a Taste of New York to Honolulu
These New York style bagels and bialys leave us verklempt.
Honolulu has a great need for authentic New York bagels, am I right? I was excited when Talia and Kelly Bongolan-Schwartz debuted Tali’s Bagels & Schmear at the Saturday Kaka‘ako farmer’s market in January 2022. They started with mini New York style bagels with traditional and locally inspired schmears, selling out every weekend.
Talia (or “Tali,” as she is known) knows a thing or two about her product: her grandparents were kosher caterers on Long Island and a kosher butcher in Jamaica, Queens.
So fast forward: Tali’s Bagels did so well at the Farmlovers and Farm Bureau markets that they were able to open a brick-and-mortar in the old Mocha Java space in Ward Centre in July. Customers (like me) don’t have to wait til the weekend to get their fill, nor do we have to hoard bagels to enjoy during the week.
On days they are open, a long line snakes around the seating area. It moves pretty fast, but I’ve heard of some people waiting as long as 40 minutes to get to the front.
Many people opt for takeout orders of bagels ($3 each, $30 per dozen) or mini bagels ($2 each, $20 per dozen) for the office, sometimes with schmears ($10–15). And you can also order just a bagel and a schmear.
I actually prefer the full-sized bagels, partly because Tali’s can serve them in sandwich form and I can make it a meal. One of my favorites is the OG NYC ($16), which is filled with Acme Premium center-cut lox from New York, dill, tomato, red onions and capers with the classic schmear. The salt-tart flavor takes me back to my favorite bagel shops in the Big Apple. If you can’t decide which sandwich to order, this one is a great start.
My next favorite is the Aww Zhuga Zhuga ($15), slow-cooked chicken breast with housemade zhug (a cilantro-based hot sauce with Middle Eastern spices), roasted bell peppers, onions and melted mozzarella. Even if you’re not familiar with the spices, you’ll feel like you are. It’s very warm and comforting and more aromatic than “spicy.”
Another good gateway is the B.E.C. ($13), which stands for bacon, egg and cheese. Yes, it’s a real breakfast bagel sandwich, and you can even switch out Portuguese sausage for the bacon.
The Bubbe ($12) is also a popular holdover from the farmer’s markets, only here it’s a full-sized bagel filled with a half-pound of house-made tahini egg salad, local dill, green onions and sprouts.
My personal favorite is the bialy ($4), which I learned to eat from New York locals. Bagels are boiled and then baked, but bialys are just baked—so they still have a slight chewiness, but are fluffy, too. A traditional bialy has caramelized onions in the middle, but Tali’s plans to have localized specials, like the kim chee bialy with spicy aioli. You can eat them as is or toasted with a schmear. My favorite way to eat a bialy is toasted with butter.
If you’re having them for breakfast, you’ll probably have them with hot coffee ($4) or, since it’s Hawai‘i, with Tali’s Israeli iced coffee ($7). This is a unique macadamia nut tahini cold brew slushie, which they call an Israeli staple with a local twist.
If not coffee, you’ll enjoy soft drinks from another Israeli farmer’s market friend—Danielle Shemesh’s made-to-order Gazoz fizzy drinks ($8) are available as dragonfruit mojito, pineapple liliko‘i or hibiscus lemon.