Saturday, February 16, 2008

REVIEW: Bagelz- ** / $$

Bagelz has been serving up coffee and bagels to needy URI students for years. Their combination of free Wi-Fi, good selection, nice lounging area, and long hours have made them a favorite. I have to admit, they've certainly hit on something since, against my best judgement, I continue to go. I'm not sure why.

Both Bagelz locations scream "college hangout." Their doors are covered in local happenings, band fliers, and calls for roommates. The inside is stuffed with coolers, counters, tables, and girls in lots of denim and Ugg boots. At the Kingston location there's an upstairs lounge-like place from where you can look down on the first floor. Smelly chairs with unidentified stains are strewn about with a few tables. Sporting a laptop, I can't think of a better place to blow an afternoon. There is an undeniable and ineffable charm that comes from a college hangout. A charm that cannot be bought.

After the small, flier-covered portway, you're immediately presented with your choice of reading for the day and a display case full of muffins, biscuits, and goodies. Their general selection is very good, and they have a wide variety of brewed coffee flavors. Their variety of espresso drinks is... not so good. They have a cappuccino, latte, and mocha. That's it. Nothing inventive, but that's fine as long as the espresso is good. Well, slight problem there, but we'll get back to it later.

They have a wide selection of bagels which are reduced to a decent selection of bagels after a short time on any given day. Twelve varieties can be brought down to six pretty easily. They also have a dynamite variety of spreads for the bagels, from ordinary butter, all the way to red-pepper hummus. Almost expected, Bagelz has very good bagels and are the saving grace of the entire establishment. Nearly the entire menu is anchored with bagels, and bagels are an option with all selections.

Their baked goods are all decent. A few kinds of cookies, biscotti, cakes, and buns all act as suitable back-up to a cup of coffee or a cappuccino as you browse the web on their free internet and listen to employee-chosen CD's skip every minute and a half. But as I hinted at, for a cafe to provide decent backup to a cup of coffee, the coffee really needs to be good. And good it ain't.

I have had weaker coffee, though I really can't remember when. It had zero body, was watery, and had a faint bitterness. It had great aroma, which was weird considering how terribly weak it was. That was only my most recent visit. I've been other times and have never, I repeat, never had a very good cup of coffee. I've had decent. I've even had good, but never very good. I don't get it. It's not hard to make a great cup of coffee. The instructions are simple and available in books, on websites, and from every secretary on Earth.

The espresso is worse. I have had the third worst cappuccino of my life at Bagelz. The first was one from a vending machine, and the second was the very first one I ever made. They apparently foamed the milk by blowing through a straw, pulled the espresso as fast as they could, didn't bother grinding the beans and just put them in whole, and used 1% milk that, as 1% usually does, tasted like water. It was a really, really bad cappuccino. The worst of the worst aside, I've never had a very good espresso drink, either. This single cappuccino was exceptionally bad, but I've had ones that came close. Every time, I tell myself it's impossible. That no business open for as long as Bagelz could actually be hawking such horrendous espresso. Every time, I'm disappointed. Tea-lovers, though, are in luck. Bagelz has recently started stocking Mighty Leaf, and in a wide variety. Mighty Leaf is some excellent tea and it's no different here.

The coffee notwithstanding, I keep going back. Now and then, I feel the urge to go hang out at a nice, collegiate place, watching scruffy professors wander in and out, watching scruffy non-conformist musicians look angst-ridden, and watching the seemingly endless array of girls in Ugg boots. I do like Bagelz, but for a reason that isn't entirely because of Bagelz. They provide the environment that invites the atmosphere. The small, cafe-like tables, the music, the upstairs lounge with stained chairs. Bagelz works in spite of itself. If only the coffee matched the atmosphere. Hell, if only the coffee was acceptable.

Bagelz is a perfect example of a place that succeeds for sheer lack of competition. There are a few cafes in nearby downtown Wakefield, but on URI campus, their competition until recently had pretty much consisted of places that offered "coffee" and a Tim Horton's which recently transmogrified into a Quizno's. They were the only place that offered the "morning routine" package of coffee and a bagel/muffin/sandwich, but if another place opened that offered better, I suspect Bagelz wouldn't be long for this world.

Bagelz: **
Price range for two: $7-$12

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99 Fortin Rd
Kingston, RI. 02881

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90 Pershing Ave
Wakefield, RI. 02879

Monday through Thursday 6:00am to 10:00pm
Friday & Saturday 6:00am to 7:00pm
Sunday 6:00am to 4:00pm

Monday through Friday 6:00am to 6:00pm
Saturday & Sunday 6:00am to 5:00pm

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