This weekend Empanada Boy and I took my cousin Bagel with Lox out to lunch for his birthday at Mile End, the new Brooklyn hot spot. It’s a Montreal-Jewish-style deli. For those confused by this description, Montreal has a thriving Jewish community, which has a deli tradition similar to that of New York Jewsâ€” similar, mind you, but different in a few key ways. One of these is the bagels, which ares smaller, denser and sweeter (boiled in honey water) than New York-style ones. We didn’t try them, but Mile End has them flown in St. Viateur in Montreal. Another is the meat. Instead of pastrami, the Jews of Montreal have a traditional of smoked, fatty brisket. Needless to say, this is what we focused on. Mile End was featured alongside my beloved Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland in a New York Times article on the new wave of delis that are reviving traditional fare with a gourmet’s attention to quality, provenance and flavor. Like Kenny & Zuke’s it’s not kosher, but it sources, cures and smokes its meat as only a true artisan would.
Considering the Times article and the fact that it’s the hottest thing in town right now, it’s no surprise that we were told the wait for three would be a hour when we arrived at 12:30 pm on a Saturday. Luckily, they let EB leave his cell number, so we took the bus to Target and got some shopping in, making our way back just in time for our table to be ready and for Bagel WL to arrive from Long Island. We sat at one of the three booths with a simple wooden table that we shared with a couple who had taken the train from Manhattan. There is also a counter with stools and a takeout window that opens onto the street.
Bagel WL and I ordered the smoked meat platter, which comes with enough brisket and rye bread for two and leftovers, a steal at $13. (We did see two strapping fellows order a platter each.) We slathered the bread with spicy brown mustard laid on slices of meat and bit into some of the juiciest, most flavorful meat you’ll find. Thick layers of fat rimmed each piece, and a smoky crust exuded the oak over which it was smoked. EB ordered the poutine with smoked meat, pictured here. You may recall from my post on Corner Burger, poutine is a Quebecois tradition, involving French fries, cheese curds, gravy and whatever else the chef chooses to add. (See this New Yorker article by Calvin Trillin for more.) It was worlds better than what we had tried: fries were crispy; homemade mushroom gravy had real flavor; cheese curds from Silver Moon Creamery were snappy and smooth and that brisket added smoke, salt and fat. The meat here seemed drier and crustier than on the platter, but it was a component here, not the main act.
As we chowed down and sipped coffee (from Stumptown), cream soda and orange juice, we felt the richness of the fat begin to overwhelm us. We needed a vegetable to work into the rotation. Then it came to me: pickles! We ordered three excellent, crisp half-sours. Perhaps I should have ordered some coleslaw instead, though, as I found my mouth parched with salt for hours after this meal.
In short, Mile End was a force to be reckoned with and lived up to all expectations. I can’t say it replaces Kenny & Zuke’s, which offers pastrami, corned beef, tongue and chopped liver at this level, but I’d rather come back here than the famed Katz’s. It’s better and less expensive. Our whole meal at Mile End cost $31, while Katz’s charges $15 for a pastrami sandwich. This is artisanal food with the full weight of tradition behind it, and you just don’t get tired of eating that.
97A Hoyt St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217