Good bagels are in short supply out here in America.

Defining a good bagel is like defining good pizza.  I know what it is but if you don't know what it is, I probably can't tell you.

But if I have to codify what makes a good bagel, there are a few social, physical and chemical traits which I am sure of.

Social

A good bagel shop is never a chain.  But it might be sometimes as long as the chain does not span more than 2 counties. The defining characteristic is in the man or woman who works in the back. Ideally you want that person to be the owner-operator of the single location. This applies to pizza as well. You respect them for the simple reason that they wake up earlier than you go to sleep and they perspire over boiling water and hot ovens before the sun rises.

Bagels must be cut by hand, not in a slicing machine.

Bagels should not be toasted. The crispiness masks the chewiness. (see below)

Good bagel shops spend a minimum on decoration.

You might squeeze a second day from a dozen bagels, but it is a sad result every time.

Physical

Bagels are only round. 

The hole has to be large enough to fit a finger through.  Without that you get improper heating during cooking.

Dry to the touch.

Golden brown.

Hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Never flaky. Very few crumbs when you are done, not counting any toppings that might be baked on.

We can argue about appropriate varieties, but tomato, tomazzo(?), asiago cheese, and any fruit beyond raisins are heresy.

Chemical

Good bagels are made with northern flour. You probably never thought of this. Flour in your bread is not made in some far away land and brought to you in rail cars. Flour is local and therefore influenced by local climate. There are flour mills in almost every state. The fees for shipping unmilled wheat are high, so the wheat needs to be grown close to the mill.

In a New York bagel shop, the flour is coming from NY or Pennsylvania. 

Northern wheat, because of the climate, has higher levels of gluten than southern wheat. Gluten is a naturally occurring protein that forms long strands in baked goods. The longer the strands, the tougher and chewier the bread. Biscuits are flaky and soft because cooks use generous amounts of shortening to prevent the formation of long gluten strands. Shortening gets its name because it shortens the gluten strands.

It isn't the water that makes a true bagel a bagel, its the flour.  This is also true for pizza. (But mozzarella is also local because it is a fresh cheese.  Story for another day. Tomatoes are not a differentiator since almost all pizzas are made with canned tomatoes. Spices are important, but largely a matter of taste with northeastern palettes more accustomed to heavy doses of oregano.)

Best Bagels in Cary

I could be arrogant and begin by saying there are no bagels in Cary. But two places that are worth visiting:

Manhattan Bagel
970 High House Rd
Cary, NC 27513   MAP
919-319-5225
 
New York Bagel and Deli III
2050 Kildaire Farm Road
Cary, NC 27511  MAP
Phone:  919-851-9050