Montreal bagels

The City Works Depot is Auckland’s newest nook of regeneration, a municipal hangar on Wellesley Street West given over to casually artisan eating and drinking. Chef Al Brown has taken a chunk of the site for a Montreal-style bagel bakery called Best Ugly. The distinctive features of a Montreal bagel – over the more common New York one – include the slightly thinner, rougher form (less plump and uniform), a sweeter dough (boiled in honey water), and most importantly, being cooked in a wood-fired oven – which gives a crunchy almost smoky exterior.

New York style bagels and Montreal-style bagels
New York style bagels (left) and Montreal-style bagels (right)

At Best Ugly the blazing furnace forms a dramatic centrepiece for the high-ceilinged space while sleeve-tattooed arms rolling bagels from a heaving mass of dough behind the counter are the image of urban artisanship.

Montreal bagels are different to New York bagels rather than better – but saying that, fresh from the oven the Best Ugly version are easily the best bagels in Auckland at the moment.

Being hand-rolled and wood-fired the Montreal bagel is more authentic than bagels that are are machine-shaped and baked in stainless steel ovens. It is believed that historic New York laws restricting wood fired ovens meant New York bakers dropped this tradition.

According to Maria Balinska who wrote The Bagel: the Surprising History of a Modest Bread the bagel was first produced by Jewish communities in Poland, possibly based on the German pretzel. Polish Jews brought the bagel to North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries where they started as a cheap ethnic streetfood that grew to mainstream popularity. There are two historic and rival stores in Montreal started by Polish immigrants selling the classic Montreal bagel that Best Ugly’s is based on.

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