When the first Best Ugly opened at the City Works Depot in 2013, bagel mania swept through the city. It was probably the most instagrammed place in the whole town for months, and for good reason. Al Brown’s wood-fired Montreal-style bagels are very very special – they’re light, chewy, nutty and slightly sweet, and come covered in the best NZ-made ingredients like Pic’s peanut butter, Whitestone cream cheese, house-cured pastrami or salmon lox.
It wasn’t just the bagels that made Best Ugly popular but the theatre, the spectacle of the place. There was that 9 tonne wood-fired oven constructed by Canadian bagel-masters, and the long wooden boards used to turn and toss the bagels into their cooling chute. There was the fact that Al’s bagel-makers were taught their trade by the best in the business from Montreal, they were capable of rolling 40 bagels in 5 minutes, and you could watch them do so before your eyes. Those same grinning staff were the ones who yelled orders to each other and echoed them back like chants or songs. They were also the exceptional baristas who brewed Havana Coffee Co. beans all day long.
The latest Best Ugly, in Newmarket, has all of these charms we know so well, but it also has a quieter, leafier outlook. It’s tucked away on York Street in the lovely Osbourne Lanes precinct. It’s a roomier, more spacious Best Ugly, but with the exact same attitude as its buddy at City Works. Al Brown had the same oven-makers come back over from Canada, he fitted the place out in the same style, all pared back and industrial with brilliant spots of colour. He filled it with those great people making bagels fresh each day, chanting to each other, brewing brilliant espresso.
It’s a winning formula, and as an other-side-of-town dweller, I’m stoked. Now I need only travel half the distance to get my fix.