Wednesday, March 17, 2010
The Pot Calling the Kettle Yellow and Montreal Smoked Meats
Despite all the buzz around Mile End, the first time I heard about this small deli located the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn was when Chief suggested it for lunch before attending an Orientation to the Profession class presented by the good people at the Second Judicial Department. A three-hour class discussing legal ethics sounded about as much fun as attending a family reunion; mandatory, awkward and extremely boring with only the promise of good grub to help you through the excruciating pain. I kid, I kid! I don't despise my extended family that much, but the metaphor serves its purpose by emphasizing how good food can make a dull experience into an otherwise tolerable one. I've visited Montreal before, albeit only briefly, but was able to eat Montreal bagels and poutine so I was eager to see how this deli imported from Montreal stacked up.
After looking up user reviews on Yelp I noticed that Mile End stood out for two reasons: bagels shipped daily from St-Viateur and Montreal-style Smoked Meats, which, according to said reviews sells out daily by 4 p.m. Though the plan was for Chief and I to meet a little before noon, as the restaurant is small, I arrived early and due to the rain decided to wait inside with a cup of coffee. While Mile End may be famous for the bagels and smoked meat I took a seat at an empty table as much of the counter was occupied by regulars who were chatting with the staff over plates of Mish-Mash: eggs, scrambled with salami (smoked in-house) with onions and greens, and those delicious Montreal bagels. Maybe it was the hockey pictures that lined the bathroom walls or maybe it was New Pornographers playing on the stereo that reminded you that you were in no ordinary New York deli; rather you were in a Montreal deli located in New York. I was happy to discover that the coffee served at Mile End is Stumptown Coffee and ordered a cup as I leisurely read the menu.
Chief arrived before noon but we were notified that the Smoked Meats wouldn't be served until after noon and not a moment before. In the meantime we split an open-faced Beauty, lox on a bagel with cream cheese, tomato, red onion and capers. Pretty typical from a deli that describes itself as a Montreal Jewish delicatessen, but like the decor, it was the details that separated this deli from others. We need to start with the bagel itself; shipped overnight from St-Viateur Bagel in Montreal these bagels are smaller, denser and sweeter compared to New York bagels. According to Wikipedia they are hand-rolled, par-boiled in malt-infused water and baked in a wood-burning oven before being doused with sesame seeds. Lightly toasted the bagel was split and given a smear of Ben's all-natural Lower East Side cream cheese before being topped with lox; made from wild King Salmon that has been cured for three days, cold smoked over Olive wood and hand-sliced upon order. My first bite reminded me of the bagels I ate in Montreal...showing no ill effects from the overnight shipping. Sweet and chewy the bagel tasted great when combined with the smooth cream cheese, smoky lox and vegetable accouterments. Better than Russ and Daughters? From a traditionalist point-of-view, probably not, but the Beauty lived up to its name and was a great starter.
We asked the waitress if we could put our order in before noon and ordered a Smoked Meat and Grandpa sandwich and split a side of Poutine. As noon came and passed, Chief and I grew anxious for our food as we saw each order of meat hand-sliced. Soon enough our waitress brought over the Poutine which is a pile of hand-cut, double-fried french fries studded with Silvery Moon Creamery Cheddar Curds and smothered in homemade Mushroom Gravy. While the fries and the cheese curds were good there were too few cheese curds and the gravy wasn't hot enough to start the melting process for a proper poutine. Still, considering how few New York institutions serve this Canadian classic it provided me with some nostalgic satisfaction.
The waitress returned to our table shortly with the Grandpa and Smoked Meat Sandwich. The Grandpa consists of a bone-in-turkey breast, wet-brined for two days then smoked over Applewood for six hours before being hand-sliced and served on rye delivered daily from Orwasher's Bakery and topped with mustard. Chief and I both thought this was the better of the two sandwiches (but more on that later) and really noticed the smoke flavor that permeated the thick, moist turkey breast. I really enjoyed the thicker cuts of turkey that were akin to those that I'd use post-Thanksgiving dinner for midnight sandwiches, giving the sandwich more body than had it been sliced thin by a machine.
The main event of this entire trip was for the Smoked Meat sandwich which was slightly disappointing. The meat is an all-natural pastured Creekstone Farms brisket, dry rubbed and cured for ten days then smoked over Oak for ten hours and steamed for three more before being hand-sliced upon order. Like the Grandpa, the Smoked Meat was also served with mustard atop Orwasher's Bakery rye bread. My problem with the sandwich wasn't the flavor of the meat but rather the consistency of it. It seemed too crumbly to the point where it made eating the sandwich a messy affair with half the smoked meat falling out with each bite. Though I wouldn't say the meat tasted bad, I would say that the sandwich would've benefited from fattier cuts being used; the fat providing more moisture as the meat in my sandwich was on the dry side.
After paying the bill it was time to brave the blustery wind and horizontal rain to arrive at the court house on Jay street for a three hour lecture of how it is wrong to steal from your clients. While waiting for the lecture to begin Chief (Jewish) made a comment to me about how many Asians were in attendance for a lawyer orientation program, which prompted me to say, "isn't that the pot calling the kettle black" to which he responded, "black, you mean yellow," which provided for a good laugh in an otherwise terrible afternoon. All in all, I'm glad that I made it out to Mile End and while it the smoked meat didn't knock my socks off, both Chief and I agreed that we'd both return for their bagels and smoked turkey anytime.
Mile End Delicatessen
97A Hoyt Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
To see all our pics, please click the flickr link.