There’s something palpably tragic about tuna fish. Perhaps it’s the mercury content. Perhaps it’s the cat lady-derivative aroma. Perhaps it’s those poor dolphins—what about the damn dolphins, dammit?! Perhaps it’s the associations of middle school, when I used to brown bag straight cans of tuna in water. Needless to say, I was not as popular as the kid with the Zebra Cakes.
That’s not to say the chicken of the sea is entirely without merit. During a two-year vegetarian stint that recently ended over a perfectly melty and meaty Cajun sandwich (worth it), my chronic protein deficiency would occasionally erupt in raging tuna melt cravings. Rather than resign myself to the classic mayo-and-pickles special, however, I developed an extensive repertoire of ethnic interpretations. Greek. Italian. Indian. Delicious across the board. For all its political incorrectness, tuna is remarkably international.
As a general rule, though, I prefer salmon. Its taste is less fishy, as are its origins, and memories of lox-and-a-Bloody-Mary-please? boozy brunches are far kinder to my emotional recall. While the canned variety can’t touch Sockeye sashimi or a flaky dill butter filet, I made this recipe last summer to good effect, so I knew salmon salad could rally for a spot in my inner circle of sandwich toppers. Despite being a fan, I rarely prepare it at home—I can never finish a full tub of cream cheese, and salmon doesn’t pair nearly as well with my go-to tuna companion, Greek yogurt.
Hence my lunch hour love affair with Ess-a-Bagel, Gramercy Park’s answer to New York’s love-hate relationship with carbs. While exceptional, the corner shop’s perfectly balanced salmon salad is far from its only draw—the bagels are chewy and authentic, devoid of the dreaded “bread bagel” consistency, and the array of both sweet and savory cream cheeses (including vegan tofu varieties for just about every flavor) is legendary. An everything bagel with lettuce, tomato, and a generous scoop of salmon salad – which, if you’re me, will last you two meals when paired with a small mountain of baby carrots – will set you back about $7. Could be worse. Could be much worse. Could be so much worse.
My one complaint? They’re not on Twitter. Come on, Ess-a-Bagel, I’m just trynna holla atchu.
Ess-a-Bagel. 359 1st Avenue (21st & 1st). 212.260.2252.