Bagelmania: Last year, I devoted a column to the Valley's exploding appetite for bagels. I checked out 15 bakers, and came away depressed at the generally low quality.
Since then, four new bagel operations have come to town, so I went off on another inspection tour. At each place I bought two bagels, a plain and a poppy, between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon, looking for optimal freshness. Once again I focused on the three major bagel components: exterior crust, interior chewiness and overall taste. Here are the results, in descending order of quality.
* Bagel & Bean, 3131 East Thunderbird (Safeway shopping center), Phoenix, 788-4300. "Is this a chain?" I asked the proprietor. "Not yet," he smiled optimistically. He has reason to smile--the bagels here are high-quality. They're wonderfully chewy, and sport a slightly sour flavor tang that hits just the right note. Had they been just a little bit crustier, I might have thought I was back in the old Brooklyn neighborhood, circa 1963. Price per bagel: 59 cents. Rating: Very Good.
* Bruegger's Bagels, 2095 West 15th Street, Tempe, 829-1000. The nation's largest bagel chain has moved into town. Its product is a bit smaller than most, and not as dense or as flavorful as I like. The bagel has a nice sheen to the crust, though, which makes it pleasant to crunch down on. Price per bagel: 59 cents. Rating: Good.
* Big Apple Bagels, 17037 North 43rd Avenue, Phoenix, 843-8401. Another big bagel chain. (I heard the company made a play to buy Chesapeake Bagels, but couldn't work out a deal.) But corporate size is no indication of quality. These bagels had almost nothing in the way of crust or flavor. And in texture, they weren't so much chewy as tough. Price per bagel: 49 cents. Rating: Fair.
* Bagel Gourmet, 16845 North 29th Avenue, Phoenix, 942-7786. I was rooting for this mom-and-pop bagelry, but my wishes couldn't survive the first bite. These bagels were virtually crustless, with only a hint of flavor. The interior was also wrong, much too bready. Strictly for newcomers. Price per bagel: 63 cents. Rating: Fair.
If you missed the original bagel roundup, here are the bagel bakers that passed muster. Several places have multiple locations--the addresses I give indicate the particular bagel store I went to. Note, too, that I'd add Bagel & Bean to this list.
* Chompie's, 3202 East Greenway Road, Phoenix, 971-8010. The class of the Valley field. Rating: Outstanding.
* Arrowhead Bagel Company, 7665 West Bell, Peoria, 412-1880. Strong on flavor and texture, weaker on crust. Rating: Very Good.
* Back East Bagel Company, 8880 East Via Linda, Scottsdale, 661-5222. Big-league flavor, properly chewy interior. Rating: Very Good.
* Bagel Boys & Yogurt, 23425 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 585-6221. Outstandingly chewy and optimally crusty. Slightly sweet flavor may raise eyebrows of connoisseurs. Rating: Very Good.
* Bagel Nosh, 4747 East Bell, Phoenix, 493-8220. One of the town's tastiest bagels. Needs a firmer crust. Rating: Very Good.
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