Al Brown's beautiful bagels

By Nici Wickes

Celebrity chef Al Brown has recently opened 'Best Ugly Bagel' take away bagel cafe at at the City Works Depot. Photo / Babiche Martens
Celebrity chef Al Brown has recently opened 'Best Ugly Bagel' take away bagel cafe at at the City Works Depot. Photo / Babiche Martens

Al Brown gets misty eyed when he re-tells the story of when he first fell in love with bagels.

"I was on my first big OE and walking down a street in Montreal, backpack on, when I came across this bagel store. I stood mesmerised for a whole 20 minutes, just standing there watching them make these incredible things I'd not seen before. I bought a freshly baked bagel that day, just plain, and walked off eating it and thinking to myself that I'd like to bring the idea to New Zealand one day. But meantime, someone else brought the New York bagel concept to New Zealand and I thought I'd missed the boat."

That was more than 30 years ago but proving that Brown is a patient - and clever - man, he brings us his newest venture, Best Ugly Bagels, a workshop where he's churning out genuine, hand-built, wood-fired, Montreal-style bagels. He and his team trained in Montreal last year at Saint-Viateur, considered the spiritual home of the Montreal bagel.

"They're so different from their New York cousins - crispier on the outside, no added salt, so they're a little sweeter and lighter instead of being dense and doughy."

Best Ugly Bagels is situated in the cool hangout of the new City Works Depot and punters can drop in for a coffee while they watch the process of bagel-making - hand-rolling, boiling, then firing in the 15-tonne purpose-built stone oven - before having theirs toasted and slathered with whatever topping they choose.

When I sat down with Brown, we went halves in two toasted beauties - one drizzled in Marsh's Clover Honey from Central Otago (Al's favourite) and the other with their house-made pastrami, mustard, melted swiss cheese and pickles (which I wolfed down, then snatched Al's half before he got the chance, it was so good) - both on sesame bagels which are "pretty much the standard" according to him.

And the name Best Ugly? "It's from a Chinese proverb but really it's because these bagels are just gorgeous in their ugliness."

Best Ugly Bagels Open 7 days, 7am-3pm, City Works Depot, cnr Wellesley and Nelson Sts, Auckland City, ph (09) 366 3926.


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