South Portland, ME: Great Bagels from Scratch Baking Co.
Let's just get one thing clear first: These aren't New York bagels.
By that, I'm not referring just to the geography of the bakery—though Scratch Baking Co. is a good 320 miles north of Manhattan, tucked into the residential South Portland neighborhood called Willard Square. I'm referring to the bagels' structure and flavor. A good New York specimen is bulbous with a densely packed, delightfully chewy crumb; smooth crust; and faintly malty flavor that doesn't cross any sweetness boundaries. When it's fresh and still warm from the oven, it doesn't need any toasting—or even any cream cheese or butter for that matter.
Scratch bagels are also chewy, but the crumb is airier, the crust darker brown and crackly, and the flavor distinctly ripe and tangy from the sourdough starter that bakery co-owner Allison Reid uses to make them. In other words, they lean a bit more towards the flavor and open crumb of a rustic, European-style bread, but with the tug and elasticity of a bagel.
On a busy Saturday, the bakery will sell out a cool 1,200 of them before the morning is over, and once they're gone, they're done for the day. (Note the one-dozen per person limit.) Of those, the everything might be the most popular for their heavy-handed sprinkling of poppy, sesame, sunflower, and fragrant fennel seeds, and more than a little coarse salt. With or without a tub of their stellar herb cream cheese, these more than stand up to anything from the Lower East Side.