Parked in a former workshop just off upper Cuba Steet, behind the Floridita’s is Al Brown’s latest venture – Best Ugly Bagels. This is the Wellington version of his successful business modeled on the legendary bagel bakeries in Montreal Until recently the site had provided storage for a second hand bookseller. Gone are the shelves and ephemera and instead the space has been increased to a cavernous size incorporating a 12 tonne wood fired oven. In homage to it’s former life, the restaurant sparsely decorated in an industrial style, walls painted but not fixed. Even the toilet still looks like a garage WC, albeit much cleaner and no grease stains on the hand towel. The bagels are made by hand, boiled in honey water and laid out to cook in a massive stone oven like pizzas being paddled into a basket and sold almost immediately. Fresh is key. To get the technique just right, Brown and team actually legged it all the way to the St Viatuer, a store in Montreal,l to train with local bakers and learn the craft.
Brown got the idea for these sweeter styled bagels from an early OE visit to his Aunt in Toronto many years ago. The story goes that the Jewish bakers of the city could not get hold of enough kosher salt, essential in the baking process. The result is a slightly more cake-like texture, softer on the inside, than the traditional chewy New York style bagels, but with a crunchier exterior. Brown knows his market, too, and as a point of difference off a number of ‘Kiwi’ toppings including organic peanut butter, hazelnut butter, jams and Marmite alongside more exotic offerings such as banana, nuts and maple mars alone or cream cheese, tomato and lemon fennel oil (known as a White Rabbit).
Today, at a private opening for friends and whanau I got to try the schmeer, a bagel with Moera’s Zany Zeus cream cheese, which highlights to light texture and the crunch factor, emphasized by plenty of tasted sesame seeds, providing a wonderful long-time memory on the palate.