Gotta Getta Bagel
This Queens bakery ships its challot across the borough, and it shows up on my own family's table more often than not. There's no real crust to speak of on this yellow-tinted loaf, but the interior is deeply flavored and flakes apart into luscious layers. It is not the moistest of eggy loaves, but this improves its sopping index. And I know from personal experience that day-old GGB challah makes for excellent French toast. A great option if your Friday afternoon options are limited to the nearest Key Foods.
Gotta Getta Bagel: 10709 71st Avenue, Flushing NY (map); (718) 793-1640
W. M. Greenberg Desserts
This semi-legendary bakery—alas, no longer owned and operated by the Greenberg family—is not quite as good as it used to be, but still prepares the full spectrum of Jewish treats, from rugelach to hamentaschen.
Towards the end of the week, you can also pick up their excellent challah. The last loaf available on the day I stopped by was whole wheat, and I was wary—but there was no negative impact from the switch to a healthier grain. In fact, the flour added another level of flavor to an already moist and rich loaf. With great pull and a somewhat firm crust, this is a challah that makes a statement. And when I peeked at the half-eaten loaf again a few days later, it was still moist and delicious—a sign of a truly well-made eggy bread.
Generally speaking, baked goods are best when they're fresh out of the oven. This truth doesn't fare well for packaged challah, a huge percentage of what's available to supermarket shoppers. But luckily, Zomick's stands out in the twist-tied pack. There is little crust to speak of in this extremely eggy loaf, but it is simply delicious. Sweet and so moist, the interior has a great pull and chewy texture. This tastes almost like a dessert challah, and has some serious heft to it. But despite breaking a couple of the "perfect challah" rules, this is still a loaf to be reckoned with.
Zomick's: Multiple locations; www.zomicks.com
Hot 'n' Crusty
I won't lie—I stopped in at the Hot & Crusty in the depths of Penn Station as a bit of a joke. Ha! I thought. Train station challah! Bet this'll be great! Well, the gluten gods somehow saw fit to reward this food desert of a train station with a delicious loaf of bread. This challah was not particularly eggy; it was pale in color and relatively unassertive in sweetness. But it is the perfect bread to serve with dinner. As I munched on a large knot, I craved the bowl of soup whose dregs would love to be sopped up by this challah. And given that Hot & Crusty is a chain, this loaf gets extra points for accessibility.
Silver Moon Challah
Usually when you pick up a challah with a great, solid crust, the interior reveals itself to be disappointingly dry and overbaked. This challah, though, was an exception. Its firm crust broke through to a moist interior, with pale dough that had great resistance. Once you have a hunk in your hand, you can peel off tasty layers of the interior as well as take a hearty bite through the crust. Great textural balance, lovely flavor. Our favorite of any challah we tried.
Honorable Mention: Blue Ribbon Bakery
I was so startled when the nice man behind the counter revealed this "challah" that I could barely respond when he asked if I wanted it sliced. Why? Well, it's square. In traditional challah circles, this would be considered blasphemous. And I had some major hesitations. But this challah was just so tasty. It's honestly much closer to a brioche than a challah—besides the shape, it also has a fairly stiff crumb and texturally resembles a sandwich bread. But for bread pudding or any other sweet bread preparation, this is an excellent choice. Just... don't call it a real challah, okay?