Finalists Found In Hunt For New Zealand's Top Toasted Sandwich
New Zealand is a step closer to discovering the best toasted sandwich in the land with the finalists in the 2023 Great NZ Toastie Takeover revealed.
With a whopping 120,000 toasties served up since mid April and the battle for bragging rights heating up, the competition’s 185 entries have now been whittled down to 14 finalists from around the country.
Hailing from Auckland, Rotorua, Hamilton, Tauranga, Havelock North, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson, Ashburton and Lumsden, this year’s finalists encompass beloved neighbourhood eateries and cafes, a coffee roaster, a diner, a burger bar, several breweries, a tavern and a beer garden.
Last year’s Supreme Winner, chef Rich Johns from Rotorua’s Okere Falls Store is once again in the running for the top title with his tantalising toastie, The Pickle Back, but with fierce competition and another round of judging to go, it’s still anyone’s game, say competition organisers.
Competition criteria requires participating eateries to create sandwiches that are toasted between two slices of bread and – like all self-respecting toasties – able to be eaten by hand. All toasties also need to contain cheese (or a vegan substitute) and McClure’s Pickles, with all the other ingredients entirely up to the entrants’ imaginations.
And what imaginations they have. Proteins on show amongst this year’s finalists include whiskey BBQ glazed smoked brisket, smoked eel, aged beef, ham hock, house-smoked lamb shoulder, lamb pastrami and gabagool (an Italian cured meat), slow roasted beef and Southland lamb.
A number have also made inventive use of the McClure’s Pickles range, with a pickle brine sourdough on offer, alongside a pickle brine shot, pickle brine cure, pickle jelly, pickle juice gel and pickle caviar.
Delicious cheese blends feature, while some finalists have chosen to extend the toastie experience with Japanese togarishi spiced spud skins and twice cooked chips seasoned with rosemary and garlic sea salt, and tempting dippers like French onion dipping sauce and housemade pickle hot sauce.
Head judge Kerry Tyack says this year’s entries have been top notch, presenting his team of 40-plus judges around the country with an extremely tough task.
“The team assessed many, many standouts in this year’s entries, and right around the country they’ve been wowed by the innovation on show, the new and unexpected ingredients and flavour combinations, and the effort being put into producing exciting, mouth-watering toasties.
“In all regions, scores were close, with many contenders up for the finalist spots. Those who are on the list, which has increased to 14 for the first time, represent the best of the best.
“We’ve seen great results from experienced old hands, matched by equally successful offerings from new entrants, with upscale restaurants competing alongside sandwich specialists, breweries, diners, food caravans, cocktail bars, you name it.
“Every year the standard improves, both in terms of creativity and eatability. But while creativity sets an entry apart, at the end of the day it has to be technically strong.
“Overwhelmingly, venues delivered sandwiches that were well toasted, easy to eat - even on the run and not too fatty, with carefully chosen ingredients to keep customers coming back time and again. And damn, they tasted good.”
If you’re a toastie fan, you can sample these innovative toastie creations for a few more weeks, so be sure to head to your nearest finalist/s to see what all the fuss is about. You’ve got until Tuesday 20 June, when the nation’s supreme toasted sandwich will be revealed.
Without further ado, the finalists are:
NORTHLAND / AUCKLAND
Cazador (Mt Eden): The Badabing: Housemade gabagool, green chilli rajas, mozzarella, McClure’s Spicy Pickles and chilli salt.
Good Day (Orakei): Croc MonShaw: Thick cut free range smoked ham (from local butcher the legend Mr Chris Knight), lashings of cheesy, mustardy bēchamel sauce, crunchy McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles and more cheese for the ultimate melt, on local baker the Dusty Apron’s grilled sourdough.
Lord Kitchener (Sandringham): The Lord Truffle Pig: Glazed ham, truffled welsh rarebit, McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, Tewkesbury mustard, parmesan crisp, on toasted sourdough with fries.
WAIKATO / BAY OF PLENTY
Okere Falls Store and Craft Beer Garden (Rotorua) (2022 Supreme Winner): The Pickle Back: Whiskey BBQ glazed smoked brisket, Swiss, cheddar and mozzarella, leftover pickle chilli wholegrain mustard, McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, on Pantry D’or pickle brine sourdough brushed with whiskey compound butter and dusted with dill pickle salt. Served with a pickle brine shot.
Hayes Common (Hamilton): Grilled Pickle Kim-Cheese (vegetarian): Hayes Kimchi, sesame mayo, McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, cheddar, crispy shallots and spring onion greens on toasted Volare Pain au Levin. Served with kumara crisps.
Freeport Cleaver & Co (Tauranga): Surf, Turf & Smoke, Monsieur!: Housemade smoked lamb pastrami, smoked prawns, mozzarella, smoked cheddar sauce and McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles between BreadHead sourdough. Served with smoked aioli and pickle juice gel.
CENTRAL NORTH ISLAND
Best Burgers (Havelock North): The Joey: Slow cooked beef in a rich Sloppy Joe sauce, American cheese & McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles in sourdough bread.
Shining Peak Brewing (New Plymouth): The Joestie: An in-depth delve between land and sea. Smoked eel, kawakawa aioli, smoked cheddar, McClure’s Pickles, puha, topped with McClure’s pickle caviar.
Café Polo (Wellington): Come Out With Your Hams Up!: Ham hock and three cheese béchamel croque monsieur with McClure’s Garlic & Dill Pickles and watercress pesto.
Huxleys (Wellington): Le Grand Dipper: Aged beef, Swiss cheese, provolone cheese, garlic butter and McClure’s Bread & Butter Pickles, on Shelley Bay Sourdough, with a French onion dipping sauce.
UPPER SOUTH ISLAND
BEERS Craft Brewery (Christchurch): The Meaty’Oaker: Lamb pastrami, McClure’s pickle brine cure, McClure’s sauerkraut, McClure’s pickles, cheese, Beers by Bacon Bros Wookiee Sauce, on rye bread, topped with a mint glazed lamb cutlet.
Sprig & Fern Tavern (Nelson): Baabaa Ganoush: House smoked lamb shoulder, baba ghanoush hummus, peppery rocket, Thor’s Hammer Manchego style cheese, McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, fresh hop aioli, on Don Rodrigo’s quinoa sour dough bread. Served with house cut twice cooked chips seasoned with rosemary and garlic Marlborough sea salt flake.
LOWER SOUTH ISLAND
The Fine Lion (Ashburton): Baa Baa Baa, Baa Baa BaLamb: Lumina lamb katsu, McClure’s Sweet & Spicy Pickles, daikon, sour plum, pecorino, sheep camembert and smoked kawakawa kewpie mayo on Harvey’s bakery special bread. Served with togarashi spiced spud skins and McClure’s Pickle hot sauce.
Roasted and Toasted (Lumsden): Sheep Thrills: Slow roasted Southland lamb, Old Yella mustard, creamy mayo, McClure’s Bread & Butter Pickles, three cheese blend and Kel’s homemade McClure’s pickle jelly.
Due to such high scores this year, competition organisers Cook & Nelson would also like to acknowledge other venues and toasties deserving of a special mention:
Auckland / Northland - Beaufort & Co (Albany), Bramble (Matakana), Bread & Butter Bakery (Grey Lynn), Cafe Aroha (Manurewa), Cheese on Toast (Mt Eden, Birkenhead), Crave (Morningside), Duo Eatery (Birkenhead), KOL (Ponsonby), Smokin Cole BBQ (Grey Lynn), Superfly (Mt Eden), Swings (CBD), The Grounds (Henderson)
Waikato / Bay of Plenty - Last Place (Hamilton), The Orchard House (Katikati), The Packhouse (Te Puke), The Public Office (Ngatea), Weave (Hamilton), The General (Mt Maunganui)
Central North Island - Replete (Taupõ), The Figgery (Hasings), Toasted Chef (Food Truck)
Wellington Region - Korky’s Catering Food Truck (Wairarapa), The Crafted & Co (Palmerston North), The Land Girl (Pirinoa), Honey Badger Saloon (Wellington)
Upper South Island - Austin Club (Christchurch), Bacon Bros Farmers Market Stall (Riccarton), South Town Club (Christchurch), The Quarters at Riccarton House (Riccarton)
Lower South Island - Johnny Crema (Queenstown), Little River Cafe (Little River), Waipiata Country Hotel (Waipiata)
With the competition’s toastmaster royale Joe McClure arriving in New Zealand this week, the final round of judging begins today, with McClure hitting the road to taste the finalists’ creations over the coming fortnight, alongside head judge Kerry Tyack and Nick Brown from organisers Cook & Nelson.
In New Zealand for the first time since 2019 due to travel restrictions, the McClure’s Pickles founder says he can’t wait to get stuck in and sample the final toasties.
“From what I’ve seen and heard so far from photos and judges’ comments, they all look and sound incredible. It really is something to see such innovative ingredients and flavour combinations being used and our pickles being incorporated in such clever ways. Kiwis really do know how to make a good toastie.”
Each toastie will again be judged on presentation, effectiveness of preparation technique, eatability, taste, innovation and originality, with the nation’s top toasted sandwich set to be revealed on Tuesday 20 June. The supreme winner will walk away with a year’s worth of McClure’s Pickles, a bespoke Rikki Berger trophy and the well-deserved reputation for the best toasted sandwich in the country.
A firm feature on the culinary calendar, the sixth annual competition has seen 185 eateries battle it out for the title of this year’s top toastie, with 120,000 toasted sandwiches consumed since mid April and that total expected to jump to 150,000 by the competition’s conclusion.
Open to all New Zealand eateries, this year’s participants have come from as far north as Kororāreka, to as far south as Invercargill, and ranged from sandwich specialists, to fine dining restaurants, breweries and food trucks, with a vegan fast food chain, a subterranean cocktail bar, Wellington Airport, the Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry and even a retirement village in the mix.
For more about McClure’s Pickles, see mcclures.com. Previous competition winners include Rich Johns from Okere Falls Store and Craft Beer in Rotorua (2022), Steve MacDougall from Mollies, Hotel D’Urville in Blenheim (2021), Romeo Dowling Mitchell from Hungry Hobos Dunedin (2020), and Joseph Walker from the Hokitika Sandwich Company Hokitika (2019).
McClure’s Pickles are a product of the USA.