Korshak Bagels takes to heart the spirit of the City of Brotherly Love by creating bagels that, for owner Philip Korshak, are like their own little love letter. Who else makes doughy creations from a wild yeast fermented starter named Helen Mirren? Or thinks about his bagels in terms of music? (“The key is to get the ego out of the way; harvest the true sound of harmony.”)
Korshak, who opened his South Philadelphia bagel shop in May 2021, admits he bakes as much to bring joy as he does for nourishment. He’s also about love and respect and abides by the credo, “We’re all in this together.”
Speaking with him is like talking to a poet/bagel sage who both honors and appreciates his craft while also doing his part to make the world kinder and more patient. That, on top of making great bagels in flavors like the Gemini (half poppy, half sesame), Cooper Short Long Hot (made with roasted long hot puree, cooper sharp cheddar cheese and jelly rolled in the dough), and Egg-rything. He’s also adding inventive chutneys and jams like on the Blue Angel (blueberry compote zested with lemon and fresh blueberries, smashed and sautéed) and the Lady Bunny (carrots, shredded walnuts and drunken raisins with goat milk and cinnamon).
Korshak holds forth with Beyondish about the origins of his obsession for the perfect recipes, the experience of opening during a pandemic and why salt bagels are forever romantic.
What inspired you to start making bagels?
It is important to remember that upon meeting Kenda, my not-then-wife, she made clear the following: “Listen, Phillip,” she said. “I’m not a sweet girl. I’m a savory woman. I like a salt bagel.”
Kendra and I moved from Brooklyn to Austin, Texas in 2003. Our [Brooklyn] habit, being young and married and subject to the entropy scheduling of the bar and television industries, was a ritualistic walk to Bergen Bagels to return to bed with bagels, coffee and the newspaper. It was an innocent time. Austin didn’t have any bagels other than corporate ones, and we were too entrenched in romance to accept a substitute.
I decided to make bagels. I had been cooking my entire life. I had been making loaves of dense country bread in our Brooklyn brownstone. It wasn’t inconceivable; besides, all things are possible through the lens of love. Also, I got very lucky and got a job working in the kitchens of a New York style pizzeria that was opening in south Austin: Home Slice Pizza. Home Slice took their dough very seriously. I worked those kitchens for 12 years, developing dough recipes and working the mix. In that time, I found a community of bread makers who embodied a punk rock ideology of freedom and honesty, openness and empowerment. This is to say, the central message is play from the heart. Or, for me and the shop, this message possibly best answers the original question: “Every bagel is a love letter.”
What was it like to open your doors in the midst of a global pandemic?
The support was, and still is, massive. That’s the thing about community: it wants the win, for all of us. The pandemic made clear the tenuous nature of connection; the hard and essential necessity of connection in that food is simply a conduit for that. It made complete sense to open during a global pandemic. This is to say, while food will rebuild us all on a molecular level, while it will rebuild what decays, the same is true of community and commerce. It is the connection of all that holds us together, stronger than apart. Each interaction, each bagel, works to that end.
What sets Korshak bagels apart from your typical New York bagel?
I think of it all in terms of music. I’m not really interested in tradition or recreation. I’m all about the band and the sound in the room. This is to say the excellent thing about playing music is that the tone that is yours is yours. It is a constant journey to be aware and present and unpretentious and genuine.
This is, of course, the same thing with dough. The key is to get the ego out of the way; harvest the true sound of harmony. This is only to say my bagel is less dense, less predictable. The glutens are fully formed. The sourdough heart and the 48-hour cold ferment ensure that. The hand cut, hand-ball, hand form, the steps taken are triple for more than that of an industrial bagel, which is fine if that’s your jam. But the Korshak Bagel isn’t industrial. If anything, it rallies against the ethos of mass production. It celebrates the present, apart from the weight of the past, of the bullying fear of the future.
What is your favorite menu item?
The unhelpful answer is: the thing I haven’t made yet. The constant answer is: the salt bagel. It is the most romantic of all.
Tell me about the Korshak culture. In addition to a good bagel, what do you want your customers to think of when they think of Korshak?
I am hopeful that the experience of the bagel, of the shop, will lead someone to question everything they have ever known, thereby making possible the room to dream for something else, something present. It is exactly like love: being predisposed, looking for clues and cues and reinforcement of myth and lore. And then that stops serving, because it is someone else’s story, someone else’s truth. If you are very, very lucky you will grow and shift with the one you love, realizing with each passing moment, be it day or year or minute, that you had no idea of what was possible. You will reinvent language, as love demands truth and not imitation.
The shop encourages love: love of the self, as a pathway of loving all genuinely. Or, as we say on the side of the tote bag: Carry Kindness Always.
What do you see in Korshak’s future?
Hope. Always hope. Mostly that it manifests the humanity that flows through, like oxygen through gills. Sometimes it manifests in the bubbling sourdough starter, fed twice daily. Always it is in recalling that hope can only truly be present, just like the dough.
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