Although I live in New England and have also traveled far and wide, I'd essentially have to agree with Msradell. It's difficult at BEST to find a decent bagel outside of NY. A few exceptions and notes however are in order.
First off, wanderingjew, I went to college in Rochester in the late 80's and I can tell you decisively that there is, indeed, a LARGE (and active) Jewish population there, So I'm puzzled as the where your remark came from.
As somewhat of a bagel purist, I have fond memories of my grandmother arriving by train in northwest CT from NYC, with a dozen NY bagel in her suitcase. YUMMMM!! There simply is NOTHING - ANYWHERE - like a NYC water bagel. PERIOD! Some reasonable facsimiles are (as likely have been mentioned before...) Bloch's Bagel in Columbus OH, for a local store/chain (EXCELLENT bakery as well and superb sandwich/bagel bar - my vote for best bagel outside of NYC) and the Einstein's chain, which more or less gets it right.
For those who have become accustomed to some of the other chains, please know that bagel weren't always (and shouldn't be) the size of a space-saver spare tire. And as far as I'm personally concerned, strawberry and maple walnut cream cheese et-al should be permanently exiled, along with the some of the more bizarre bagel offerings (blueberry, green bagel, jalapeno,
). Yes, I'm even a cinnamon-raisin frowner. ;)
Michael Stern had made a comment at one point about the old Lender's bagel factory in New Haven, CT. I, too, can vouch for the (then...) exceptionally good bagel offered there. I went on a personal guided tour (as a kid) with my aunt and cousin, and was taken around by one of the Lender brothers. What they've degenerated into to now bears little resemblance to that once noble example.
Boston offers a good bagel bakery, located in Brookline - Kupel's (Harvard St). It's a righteous bagel, perhaps slightly larger than they should be (but 'tis the trend nationally), but with the right taste, texture and "chew". Bruegger's and the rest of the chain's don't merit a serious look (or for that matter a visit, even if you were right outside their door). Their "bagel" are hideous (and I think I'm actually being nice ;) ).
We do have a couple decent bagel places here in southern New Hampshire - Hot Rise in Merrimack (exit 12 off the Everett Tpke, on the DW Highway), which although they stray from the more traditional toppings, have a good bagel. the secret? It's and H&H bagel from NYC shipped in parboiled and frozen and finished/baked on premises.
- Bagel Alley, 1 Eldridge St., Nashua. Made from scratch, they even have a steam injection oven, which yields a really nice outer crust.
That being said... now it's time for bagel with cream cheese, lox, capers and onions ;)
oh.. and for EXCELLENT lox, the Kirkland signature at Costco is a great deal (around $11/lb at my local warehouse).