In the Spoon series Buttered Up, we interview content creators in the food space about what their job is like. This month, we chatted with Kaitlyn Lavery of @kaitlyneats, more commonly known as the girl eating her way through every bagel shop in New York City.

Central Park. Hot dogs. Times Square. Yellow cabs. The Statue of Liberty. Subways running late and rats scampering through the sidewalks. Some things, love them or hate them, just scream New York City, and bagels are at the top of that list.

Bagels may not have started out as a New York thing, but by the 1970s, the bagel was unanimously beloved by New Yorkers, and today, its legendary status lives on. But possibly no one in the history of ever has set out to try every bagel in New York City. And in 2023, there are a lot.

Enter Kaitlyn Lavery, a food TikToker, Brooklyn resident, and South Jersey native. Since June, she’s been on a quest to try every bagel in New York City, sharing her taste tests along the way on TikTok. I sat down with Kaitlyn to get the schmear on her process, behind the scenes bagel knowledge, and the importance of everything seasoning.

Spoon University: My first question has to be, how did you come up with the idea of trying every bagel shop in New York City?

Kaitlyn Lavery: So, it kind of fell in my lap. I'm from South Jersey, where bagels are pretty prominent, and I had my food page. I like bagels; bagels always did well for me on my TikTok page. And then Popup Bagels had just come on the scene. I saw Sister Snacking, which is a page I follow, doing a video on Popup, and this is before it got really, really big. So I was like, lemme go try what they have. And then people seemed to like it. I got a lot of views on it and I was like, lemme just try everywhere.

SU: I have a few questions about the process of picking where you go and how you map the shops out. How do you decide today I’m gonna do…?

KL: Yeah, so a few things are definitely time and convenience, on top of where people want to see. My boyfriend films me — he is like my little bagel manager. He has a list going of all the places that are either really popular where we live, or that people have commented about. So when I posted Popup I was starting with a blank canvas. I just wanted to go there to try it out.

From there I went to Utopia, which is a pretty popular bagel spot, and I said, "Leave a comment where you want me to go next." So people did, and I did a little bit of compiling where people want me to go and also what's near me. I don't think anyone told me to go to Bagel Smith, but Bagel Smith's the first bagel spot I ever went to, so I knew I was gonna go there. And the places that are around me are just easy to get to.

SU: Gotcha, gotcha. Have you figured out any rating trends by geographical area or by shop or?

KL: Honestly, I haven't because I feel like I've had really great bagels in some areas and really bad. Even down to a two block radius, it's been very close, and it's been very different in my ratings. So I don't think there's any geographical similarities. I haven't gotten to the Bronx yet, and I haven't gotten to Staten Island, but I've done Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan so far.

SU: Are you trying to get there early when the bagels are fresh?  I know you said on TikTok that you always order an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese everywhere, but do you have other rituals about going?

KL: I wouldn't say I typically always go in the morning. Like I never really go when shops are closing around 3:00 p.m., but I'm also not the first person there. However, I feel like Popup has given me kind of, maybe it's unrealistic, maybe it is realistic, but a look into what a fresh bagel is. Popup literally takes it out of the oven and puts it into your bag. And I know a lot of these bagel shops aren't necessarily able to do that based on the volume that they're doing.

But there's places that I've been that are doing more than just bagels, and I still get a fresh hot bagel. Then there's the places where I'm getting a cold rock-solid bagel and I'm like, okay, quality control.

SU: After eating a bagel, do you cleanse your palate at all?

KL: So I always start out with the everything scallion, and then I also always get another fun bagel. I don't really have criteria for the second bagel. It could be a sandwich, a sweet bagel. Like this morning, I got a BLT. I've never gotten a BLT bagel before, but I was just in the mood for it. So, it's kind of just whatever I'm in the mood for. I definitely have water, but I don't have like a strict cleansing or anything like that.

SU: What are some things that you look for when you're trying to rate a bagel?

KL: First off is seasoning. A bagel should be properly seasoned on both sides. It should be crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Those are the main things right off the bat.

As far as cream cheese goes, I think some places like to overkill it with the cream cheese, which then overshadows the bagel, which should be the star. I think sometimes maybe they do that to hide the bagel. But yeah, I like it crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and definitely seasoned. Those are my three main criteria.

SU: Do you have any bagel hot takes, like opinions on how a bagel should be prepared?

KL: People are very specific with how they like to eat. Like it's crazy. And some people love that it's toasted. I don't prefer it to be toasted. I think if it's fresh and good, it shouldn't be toasted.

SU: More broadly, what do you think is the importance and role of the bagel in our culture right now?

KL: I feel like it's getting a lot of love. When I started doing these videos, I did not realize that it was gonna pick up or that people were so obsessed with bagels. But one thing that I really realized is that it's a super regional thing. People will comment from California or the South or Canada, and they'll be like, “I don't have a bagel shop within 50 miles of me, and I still love watching these videos.” I think it's definitely a staple in the Northeast as well. People come to New York City, they want pizza and they want a bagel.

SU: I don't think the enthusiasm will ever die out.

KL: Yeah, it's been fun. I mean even in the little area that I live in, there are like four spots that I need to try. And New York is huge. Brooklyn's huge. I haven’t even scratched the surface.

SU: Yeah, you got a lot of work cut out for you!

KL: I do, I really do.

SU: But not bad work. How many more bagel places do you think you have to try?

KL: I mean, I don't even know. There's probably hundreds, and I feel like I've only scraped the surface. I think I've only been to, total, probably 20, and I've filmed probably 14 or 15 so far. But I'm just gonna keep going. If the people want it, if the people start to die out, and they're like, I don't want this anymore, then I'll stop. But it's fun for me and people seem to like it, so I'm just gonna keep eating bagels.

You can follow Kaitlyn's bagel quest and other wide-ranging food adventures here.