We ruffled more than a few of your feathers when we had the audacity to suggest that many of us around Washington and the country are underserved by good neighborhood bagel spots. Well, because some of you asked nicely -- ahem -- we decided to fan out and visit a bunch in the area, with a few requirements: No mega-chains (though our control taste-test from Einstein Bros. was better than expected) and the shops had to make their own bagels (no H&H imports, in other words). Most of what we tried fell into the category of passable, with a couple of brighter spots. But we stick by our assertion that it's hard to beat homemade.
Bagel City: A bagelry that once sat near the top of the local bagel pyramid may have just been having an off day, but these dense specimens placed toward the bottom of our informal tasting. We didn't enjoy them as much as we did nearby Ize's (see below). We weren't crazy about the poppy seeds in the dough of the everything bagel, the interior of which was an inexplicably darker color. 12119 Rockville Pike, Rockville.
Bagel Uprising: Federal employee by weekday and bagel baker by weekend Chad Breckinridge turns out flavorful, refreshingly modest-sized bagels in his home that he sells at the Sunday Four Mile Run Farmers and Artisans Market. We tend to like our bagels a little darker, but Breckinridge favors underdone rather than overdone rounds. 4109 Mt Vernon Ave., Alexandria.
Bethesda Bagels: Despite an eye-catching appearance that one tester described as "like the Barry Bonds of the bagel scene," these were better than decent. Unlike many of our samples, the everything bagel we tried boasted a darker crust than the plain. 4819 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 1718 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Bread Bite Bakery: The real sleeper of the bunch. We had no idea what to expect from the shop that replaced CakeLove, but this tiny storefront makes some respectable bagels. We appreciated the rich golden color of the crust, which had a bit of crackle and the characteristic blisters we love to see. The dough was nice and springy. The everything bagel was a bit lacking in toppings, which didn't include the assertive caraway seeds -- a common oversight. 1506 U St. NW.
Bread Furst: Anyone familiar with baker Mark Furstenberg's oeuvre will not be surprised to learn that his bagels are dark, sporting a thick shell and sooty tint. But those attributes actually work in his bagels' favor, particularly in a city where so many of its cohorts barely register on the crustiness scale. Inside is a soft, yielding crumb with plenty of tang. 4434 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Brooklyn Bagel: These huge bagels had the tell-tale signs they'd baked into each other. Our plain bagel even sported what looked like lines impressed by some kind of rack. And the everything bagel had sunflower -- sunflower! -- seeds. Nonetheless, we got over these quirks to discover dough with "really nice flavor" and an unabashedly brown crust. 2055 Wilson Blvd, Arlington.
Bullfrog Bagels: What's up Bullfrog? The results of our first taste test didn't match the hype, or our memories. The specimens we picked up from Open City in Woodley Park were pretty ordinary. "It's fine," summed up one taster. Our everything bagel needed more toppings, and the dough was a little yeasty and spongy for our tastes. Then we learned that wholesale bagels are boiled and baked at Mess Hall, rather than at the H Street shop. We had to wonder. Would a second taste test be that different? Might the issue be an occasional quality control problem rather than an overall product flaw? We decided to give Bullfrog a second chance. The bagels we bought the next week at the retail location were in fact leaps and bounds better -- browner, chewier and a whole lot more flavorful, some of the best we tasted. This is what all Bullfrog bagels deserve to be. 1341 H St. NE and various other locations.
Georgetown Bagelry: So what if it's actually in Bethesda? This ever-crowded nook consistently produces a hefty bagel with a glossy, delicate crust and a chewy middle, which is exactly what most people are looking for when they want a good bagel. Bonus points for the consistent availability of salt bagels, as well as mini bagels. 5227 River Rd., Bethesda.
Goldberg's New York Bagels: Respectable, if nothing mind-blowing. Our plain bagel was a bit on the pale side; the everything was generously topped. Overall, we found them a bit bready. P.S., they're not open on Saturdays. 4824-26 Boiling Brook Parkway, Rockville; 9328 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 7731 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac.
Ize's Deli and Bakery: Another pleasant surprise in our sampling, though you might not guess it based on appearance. These bagels were definitely on the bigger end of the spectrum but boasted a flavorful dough, if a bit on the sweet side, and good balance between the crust and chewy interior. 11622 Rockville Pike, Rockville.