Published on October 28th, 2013 | by Charu Suri
7 Scott Rossillo: Brooklyn’s Virtuosic Bagel Artist
“This is not your regular bagel tour,” says Dom Gervasi of Made in Brooklyn Tours with a dramatic pause. “The world premier bagel artist is nuts!”
We’re just three of us who showed up for his walking tour on a fine day in Williamsburg, but we couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about a bagel. When you’re a New Yorker, you get jaded from talk of cream cheese.
Gervasi has chosen Pudge Knuckles, a coffee shop on Kent Avenue, as the walking tour’s starting place. Around us are skyscraper apartment buildings in mint condition, and the East River is a few hundred feet away. We walk towards the where we can get a view of the Williamsburg Bridge as he starts to impart some of his well-brushed history.
The Williamsburg Bridge at sunset
Pudge Knuckles was started by a celebrity rock climber, Ivan Greene, and supermodel Hartje Andresen. The “roast your own coffee aspect is so Brooklyn,” says Gervasi, who noted everything from supper clubs and make your own furniture shops have a self-made quality to them here. From the Maker Movement, which was pivotal for Brooklyn’s artisanal crafts industry to what the borough is now, it’s all hats off to that “Do It Yourself” spirit.
A Brief History of Brooklyn
To get a sense of where this spirit comes from, it may be worth examining the burough’s history, albeit briefly. When the narrows were discovered in 1524, the Brooklyn Native Americans who were living here at the time moved someplace else. The fur trade (more specifically, pelts of fur) were what made this area so popular, and these were ferried on the Hudson. Even as early as 1638, Brooklyn started to create a ferry landing in front of Old Fulton street, which is where Brooklyn begins. Williamsburg and Brooklyn were actually cities at one point.
Today, Brooklyn takes that entrepreneurial self-made spirit to heart in its small business circle. For instance, the new Odd Fellows Ice Cream is made in small batches with locally-sourced milk, and is hormone-free. “The meat ice cream flavors are popular,” adds Gervasi, referring to the popular Chorizo Caramel Swirl.
This is just one store that exemplifies the borough’s foodie obsession. Between talk of the Tootsie Roll, which was invented in Brooklyn, to The Bagel Store (the purpose of our walking tour), I realized that the borough may be more food-centric than Manhattan. While New York City has Zabar’s, Chelsea Market, and Dominique Ansel Bakery (the inventor of the cronut), Williamsburg has Mast Brothers, Odd Fellows Ice Cream and The Bagel Store among others. And let’s not forget that the world’s largest sugar refinery, the Domino refinery, was built by the Havemeyer family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and rebuilt after a fire destroyed the building in 1882.
The “Willy Wonka” Bagel Store
We finished the walking tour at piece-de-resistance, The Bagel Store. When we entered, Scot Rossillo and his business partner, dressed in similar tie-dyed tee shirts, offered us a plate of pumpkin, “red boobies” (for Breast Cancer Awareness month), candy corn, and Bavarian pretzel bagels.
Tie-dyed Bagels at “The Bagel Store”
After hearing Rossillo speak, it was not hard to see his true passion for creating bagels. His worth ethic and inspiration came from watching his grandfather hand-cut onions and make items for his food cart. Today Rossillo dreams in food; he offered me a “bagel drink” which tasted of cinnamon. “It’s the liquid that becomes a bagel,” he explains as I take a taste of the drink and wince to figure out what the heck I am drinking.
The candy corn version tasted better than store-bought candy corn, and my favorite Bavarian pretzel was soft with good sized salt chunks on top. After discovering the joys of nutella cream cheese and a creamy pumpkin cream cheese that tasted better than the fruit, I knew the Rossillo was the real deal. “I am constantly innovating,” he explains, as I eye the brilliant tie-dye style bagels he shows me on his Facebook page.
After he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute’s International Bread Baking Arts program, Rossillo dabbled in other bagel ventures before he decided he was independent enough to venture on his own. After washing the bagels down with some local craft beer, I took home a bag of blood orange bagels that were as sticky as toffee but probably the most delicious I’ve eaten. Nothing tasted like food colorings either, in keeping with Rossillo’s commitment to no preservatives.
The Bagel Store is yet another reason why Brooklyn might be the East Coast’s food lab. With all due respects to Berkeley, CA.