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Monday, April 19, 2010

Mile End Delicatessen

Emma said deli! I said when? 

Saturday after one tough cycling class, I practically walked took the subway to Brooklyn Heights. With all the construction going on in the Financial District, all of the subways are screwed up. Thinking I was being smart and walking all the way to the AC train so I could take one train into Brooklyn Heights, I ended up getting a nice tour of the Financial District. 

Next time I am walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. It would have been much quicker. Plus, I have never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Anyway, back to the Deli...

While reading the New York Times one day, Emma found an article about a few Deli's around North America. One which happens to have opened only a few months ago in Brooklyn. To top it all, they use local meets and ingredients. 

Brooklyn flavor: The coffee is Stumptown
Cream cheese: is Ben’s
Brisket is from Pat LaFrieda 

"New delis, with small menus, passionate owners and excellent pickles and pastrami, are rising up and rewriting the menu of the traditional Jewish deli, saying that it must change, or die. For some of them, the main drawback is the food itself, not its ideological underpinnings.

So, places like the three-month-old Mile End in Brooklyn; Caplansky’s in Toronto; Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland, Ore.; and Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, N.C., have responded to the low standard of most deli food — huge sandwiches of indifferent meat, watery chicken soup and menus thick with shtick — by moving toward delicious handmade food with good ingredients served with respect for past and present.

At Mile End, the beef salami is, in fact, house-made — from a custom blend of brisket and short rib sold by the star butcher Pat LaFrieda, no less. Other neo-retro delis are taking the creamy mayonnaise out of coleslaw and potato salad recipes, returning them to their vinegary Eastern European roots. It goes almost without saying that almost everybody is making their own pickles — not just dills and half-sours but green tomato, to round out the authentic (and free) bowl that deli mavens expect to see on the table. One has even tried house-made mustard, but he couldn’t keep up with demand.

“I had no idea how much mustard people eat in New York,” said Mr. Bernamoff, who grew up in Montreal, where the Jewish deli tradition centers on smoked meat, the Canadian answer to pastrami."

Emma said to me, "you'll be into this. A new deli just opened in Brooklyn do you want to go?" Well, obvi. Two days later we did just that. On the way to Mile End, she told me she already knew what she was going to have. Boreum Hills, where Mile End is located is about a 15 minute walk from her Brooklyn Hills apartment.

The restaurant has a more modern design than the typical New York Jewish Delicatessens. It was very small and very busy. There was an hour and fifteen minute wait for the two of us.  Apparently they knew this was going to happen because they did what any smart restaurant business man would do, installed a to go window on the front of the building. So we did just that.  

Fifteen minutes later, Emma and I were walking down the streets of Brooklyn devouring munching on our Ruth Wilensky sandwiches. 

Weekend Brunch Menu

We each also got a pickle.  How could you go to a deli and not? 

Here are some other articles, found on Mile End's website about the restaurant. 

Top: Mile End’s Smoked Meat Sandwich Bottom left, Exterior. Right, Jars of pickled cabbage.

Like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton introducing traditional American blues to a new generation in the 60’s, sometimes it takes a foreigner to make you appreciate your own culture. So, maybe it’s not crazy that a French Canadian can make New Yorkers remember what the soul of a great Jewish deli is all about. Mile End (named after a neighborhood in Montreal) in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill is faithfully recreating Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen much the same way that Hill Country recreated Lockhart’s Kreuz Market barbecue.
Poutine with Smoked Meat ($11).
Mile End imports bagels from St-Viateur’s, one of the two great bagel makers in Montreal (the other being Fairmount Bagel). The bagels are sweet and covered with sesame seeds. While interesting and authentic, H&H and Ess-a-Bagel have nothing to fear. Mile End also serves poutine, the staple dish of Quebec, which is becoming increasingly prevalent south of the Canadian border. Here, the French fries are smothered with hot brown gravy and cheese curds, as well as an optional topping of smoked meat(more on that later).
The Ruth Wilensky ($6), salami sandwich pressed on an onion roll.
Mile End also features a sandwich named after Ruth Wilensky, the owner of Wilensky’s little soda fountain shop in Montreal dating from 1932. I’ve had the pleasure of being served a Wilensky Special (grilled salami and bologna on a mustard-slathered, toasted and pressed roll) by the 88-year old Ruth Wilensky. So I can tell you that Mile End’s (even sans the bologna) on a warm, pressed onion roll is pretty damn authentic. And thankfully, like at Wilensky’s, there’s a 10¢ charge if you want it WITHOUT mustard.
Cutting smoked meat on the line.
Then the pièce de résistance, Smoked Meat, or, as the French language police insist on calling it in Montreal, viande fumée. Invented at the now defunct Ben’s Delicatessen in Montreal and still lovingly preserved at Schwartz’s Charcuterie Hebraïquesmoked meat is the bastard love child of what New Yorker’s know as pastrami and corned beef. It is a blackened, dry-cured, peppery, intensely-smoked brisket that is not as spicy as pastrami and more complex than corned beef. So complex, that Jeff, was convinced that there were hints of truffle alongside the smoky, peppery notes.
Will Mile End supplant Katz’s and Second Avenue Deli? No more than Mick Jagger replaced Muddy Waters. But maybe, just maybe, New Yorkers will feel renewed pride in New York’s Jewish delis, forestalling their disappearance while gaining a new appreciation for our Jewish relatives to the North.
When New Yorkers hear the word deli, a few things come to mind, and most of them involve excess—like that mile-high Carnegie Deli behemoth. When I first visited Schwartz’s, Montreal’s answer to Katz’s Delicatessen, I was surprised to see a modestly portioned sandwich: a reasonable stack of meat on coaster-size rye that I could actually fit into my mouth. A New Yorker might ask: Is this really a deli?

And then there’s what they call the meat: “smoked meat.” Sounds awfully generic when you’re used to names like pastrami and corned beef. But Montreal’s deli staple isn’t so different. It’s brisket that’s been dry-rubbed, cured, smoked, steamed and hand-sliced. The result, if done correctly, is flavorsome hot-pink flesh held together tenuously by creamy fat, and saturated with the taste of salt, spice and smoke.

Mile End, a two-month-old restaurant in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, may be the first restaurant to bring the Montreal deli tradition to New York City. Perhaps more important, it could be the city’s first proper Canadian dining establishment. The eatery is neither a theme park—like T Poutine on the Lower East Side, with its drunk-food motif—nor a gimmick—such as the defunct Inn at Little West 12th, with its nominal Canadian offerings.

Mile End showcases some of the country’s most beloved regional specialties—smoked meat, Montreal-style bagels and yes, poutine—with Brooklyn flavor: The coffee is Stumptown, the cream cheese is Ben’s, and the brisket is from Pat LaFrieda. The subway-tiled space, with its few picnic-style tables and sparse counter seating, is in line with the borough’s DIY aesthetic, and the waitresses are dressed in subdued librarian tones. The restaurant does for Canadian cuisine what Frankies did for Italian—it’s hipsterfying it.

Owner Noah Bernamoff, a 27-year-old Montreal native who owns the restaurant with his wife, Rae Cohen, seems determined to keep it real. The menu is short and focused, offering a small variety of sandwiches, breakfast dishes (such as the phenomenal smoked-meat hash, crisp cubed potato with softened onions and shredded smoked meat, topped with a runny egg) and sides (the house-made pickles are everything they should be—garlicky and crisp, with a lively fermented flavor). He cures his meat the old-school way, and serves his sandwiches just like Schwartz’s, small and adorned with only the mandatory mustard. The quality of the meat measures up to his forebears’—it can skew a bit salty, but is otherwise assertively seasoned, smoked and marbled with melting fat.

Other items that pay homage to his hometown do so with varying degrees of success. The Beauty, named for a well-known luncheonette, is a bland open sandwich of smoked salmon, sliced onions, capers and cream cheese on an untoasted Montreal bagel (thinner and sweeter than its New York counterpart, and covered in sesame seeds). The poutine, however, is perhaps the best I’ve ever had, here or in Montreal. The fries are rich and starchy, the gravy savory but not overpowering, and the cheese curds half melted, half squeaky and just right. The bagelach, meanwhile, a flaky horseshoe-shaped pastry filled with sweetened pot cheese, is the closest thing Mile End has to dessert.

There are some downsides. The meat runs out by 4pm or so (Mile End set up a Twitter feed to track its “meat status”). Tables are too close together, and thanks to that awkward picnic seating, God forbid someone has to go to the bathroom. It’s a tight, at times off-putting squeeze. But, as a friend reminded me, so is Schwartz’s, and that never stopped me from eating there.

Cheat sheet
Drink this: Montreal deli purists will notice that Mile End does not carry the vile-tasting Cott’s cherry soda. It does, however, offer a more palatable version from Virgil’s.
Eat this: Smoked-meat sandwich, smoked-meat hash, poutine, pickles, bagelach
Sit here: Quarters are tight. If you get your pick of seats, go for the lone two-top or the counter stools.
Conversation piece: Homesick Montrealers can order St. Viateur bagels (headquartered in Mile End, the ethnically diverse hipster enclave for which the deli is named) through

You can even order Mile End Canadian Bagels online at their website...

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