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A Montreal Jewish Deli Grows in Brooklyn

We head to Mile End

Marc Tracy
March 08, 2010
Smoked meat poutine.(All pictures by Kate Hurwitz)
Smoked meat poutine.(All pictures by Kate Hurwitz)

New York says New York’s best deli is Mile End, the new, Montreal-style Jewish deli in Brooklyn. This is bound to cause a stir, especially given that the New York Daily News already railed against Mile End in a faux-angry editorial for polluting the city with Montreal’s distinctive bagels, which are smaller, flatter, and sweeter than what we’re used to here.

Started by law-school dropout Noah Bermanoff, Mile End, a small, tightly packed storefront with a few picnic-style tables, a counter, and an open kitchen, aims to bring to New York the experience of eating in that eponymous Montreal neighborhood—long the center of the Canadian city’s Jewish population—and specifically to provide “smoked meat,” which is pastrami-but-not-quite, to the good people living south of the border.

Mile End’s bagels are actually shipped in from Montreal’s St.-Viateur, but everything else is local: like many of the other popular restaurants in the leafy, stroller-heavy Brooklyn neighborhood of Boerum Hill, the meat is sustainable and the vegetables house-pickled (it even serves cups of coffee from hip bean purveyor Stumptown). I headed there during prime Sunday brunching hours to see what all the fuss was about. A half-hour wait, an hour meal, and an appallingly full stomach later, I emerged with a much, much better idea.

• The smoked meat hash (below) had charred potatos and onions, with bits of smoked meat strewn about that I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time scraping for, like the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. It came topped with a fried egg, perhaps under the theory that there is nothing that a fried egg won’t make better (a theory for which this dish could serve as useful evidence). Delish.

• The Mont Royal was a large, stuffed latke that—unlike some—didn’t attempt to disguise the potato taste. It was topped with be-chived crème fraiche (more things should use crème fraiche!), perhaps intended to resemble the snow that frequently caps this high hill of Montreal (which abuts Mile End). Plus lox. It was Sunday morning, after all.

• It was the first meal of the day, but how can you not get a smoked meat sandwich! I had remembered smoked meat at Schwartz’s—which practically invented the thing!—as really quite similar to pastrami, maybe only a little thicker. But Mile End’s smoked meat is much more halfway between pastrami, with the tongue-shocking electricity (you’ll find yourself crunching whole peppercorns) and peppery aftertaste, and BBQ brisket, thick and stringy and so rich as almost to be sweet. The sandwich comes on rye and with house-made mustard, very conservatively applied; you can put more on, but you shouldn’t.

• Ah yes, the poutine (top picture). The smoked meat poutine. Poutine is fries, thick gravy, and cheese curds (read Calvin Trillin’s recent New Yorker article for more). All of that, plus smoked meat. This is can’t-miss. Just make sure you exercise a lot afterward—once you can move again.

And, finally, the special Montreal bagels? You think I ate one of those? This is New York!

Earlier: Bagel Wars

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.