I am so glad Al’s Deli exists. It’s actually been around since 2013, opening hot on the heels of Al Brown's Best Ugly Bagels. But this one was started by a Canadian and is the comfort food institution Auckland didn’t know it needed until it opened. Having visited for the first time recently, I feel embarrassed to say I hadn’t been sooner. But I’m never up that steep end of Queen Street.
As a farewell get-together before I moved to the bright lights of Blenheim (no sarcasm intended, it’s a lot sunnier here than it is in Auckland) Sam forewent the calorie counting, and between the two of us we probably ate a week’s worth of naughty foods in one sitting. People say Americans are fat, but if Al’s is any reflection of food in Canada, so too would the Canadians.
Having recently returned from a week in Melbourne, I can confidently say that Al’s decor treads the line between hipster cool and a bit run-down in the same way many of the cafes and bars in Melbourne do, and they’re all pretty cool. It’s not a big place, so come late to meal times at your peril. There’s cabinets full of cured salmon and bacon, sweet pies and puds, and we could see a baker hard at work kneading dough at the counter.
They serve root beer floats here, in ginormous mugs yanked out of the freezer. And they make (practically) everything themselves. Home-made bagels, brioche, home-cured bacon and salmon, desserts, everything. It’s pretty great. Sam waxed lyrical about how Al's does the best cream cheese and salmon bagel he’s ever had. Their rendition, known as ‘The Saint’ ($12.50) is lush but with just the right amount of schmear so that one doesn’t swim in the stuff; the rich maple cured salmon and Philly is rounded out well by the tangy pickled onions and capers.
I had a hankering for chicken (of the fried variety) on this occasion and so ordered 'The Plateau’ ($11). The Plateau chicken is Al's answer to KFC, fried boneless chicken coated in secret spices and sandwiched between brioche buns with aioli, tomato and rocket. Their brioche was thick and pillowy and its tower-like appearance made my jaw feel uneasy but with some strategic hand placement and use of table implements the burger was gone in no time.
I was excited to try the poutine ($8/9.50), made by someone able to claim its Canadian heritage. Home-cut fries doused in richly flavoured gravy (in vege-gravy no less, just to please the pescetarian) and dotted with cheese curds, this was a knife and fork affair not to be missed. As a bit of a fry fiend, I was slightly disappointed that they weren’t particularly crisp, but I guess making them crisp in the first place is all a bit redundant as they’re going to be smothered in gravy anyway.
With what felt like a pint of root beer, poutine and burger in me, I was near to murderously full. Sam had evidently spied a large platter of bread and butter pudding ($8.50) in the cabinet on the way in, although he tried to sell the idea of dessert to me like it just popped into his head. Post-humorously (for the pudding, not ourselves) Sam declared “Thank god we only ordered one.” For what arrived was nothing short of enormous. A wedge-shaped croissant fortress, drizzled in salted caramel sauce with a comparatively minute scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Between the two of us, we ate maybe half. I might have been able to slowly shave a bit more off but I don’t think Sam had the patience to see just how far I could go.
Though I pine for more of that pudding (and poutine.. and everything else they have to offer), I’m secretly glad that I now live on another island separated by a body of water. My waistline wouldn’t be able to handle it otherwise.
1/492 Queen St