I had to start another thread; I strained my cursor trying to read some of the posts.
I think when it comes to assessing bagels there is an X factor, i.e., freshness, that is probably unique to bagels...even more so than other bread products and other baked goods, which are generally purchased to be eaten later. Simply stated, depending on how recently it was baked a bagel will give you a completely different taste experience. In the morning I often stop for a bagel on my way to the train; I'd say one out of ten times the bagel is still warm. On those occasions the bagel experience is transcendent. If you get a not-so-fresh one, it's ordinary. So within the same store one could reasonably have a widely divergent opinion of the place depending upon the freshness stage of bagel he or she sampled.
Of course, there are different basic styles of bagels and bagel making; my point is that within a particular style it can be hard to judge one baker against another without sampling the bagels at the same stage of freshness.
This relates, incidentally, to one of my favorite bagel store situations, which I've seen a zillion times -- maybe it's a New York experience since there are so many bagel places -- someone walks into a bagel place and says "Are any hot?" The proprietor inevitably replies "They're all fresh." The guy behind the counter can never simply say no -- it's always "they're all fresh," with the implied "shut up and buy 'em." These are usually bagel shops that have neon signs saying "Hot Bagels" in the window...
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