Save the Deli

Mile End Opening Night: Beginning of “The End”

Though it once boasted hundreds of Jewish delicatessens, it’s been a long time since Brooklyn has celebrated a new deli opening in the borough. Most now exist in the southern reaches of the BRK, down in Mill Basin, Flatbush, or Coney Island. But last night, Jewish deli returned to downtown brownstone Brooklyn, when Mile End finally opened its doors.

It’s been a long time coming, ever since Brooklyn Law School student, and Montreal Jew, Noah Bernamoff began curing smoked meat in his Park Slope apartment, smoking on his roof, and serving it to friends last year. There were months of experiments, lease negotiations, construction headaches, and inspection delays. But finally, yesterday, Mile End was in business.

Some people called it the most hotly anticipated opening of a restaurant so far this year in New York City. There’s been an impressive amount of media hype, with mentions in Blackbook, the New York Times, Time Out, and New York Magazine (I wrote this one). Ever since that article, I’ve been deluged by friends begging to know when MIle End would open. So I joined seven of them in a very cramped table (made for half that number), and we ate everything there was on offer.

Hostess and Noah’s recent bride Rachel Cohen greeted us at the door, dressed as a deli woman’s version of strawberry shortcake. She ran the floor service, taking orders and delivering food with a smile and a cool head, making sure everyone was attended to and well fed. With Noah behind the counter smoking and slicing with co-workers and a few friends (one huge guy in a Habs shirt should be hired immediately), the mom and pop vibe in full action. Considering the place is no larger than my apartment, everyone soon got to know each other pretty well, with tables of strangers all making friends. Conversation was loud and joyous, punctuated by Weezer tracks over the stereo.

Now let’s get to the main event: the deli.

I actually have tasted their food twice before opening. Once, when Noah was cooking at home, and once in December, when he had a preview for friends. A few of the things I had then weren’t available last night, so let me tell you about them.

Karnatzel: yes, that elusive thin, long garlic beef salami, found only in Montreal, is now available south of the border. Noah’s is homemade, and has the requisite snap and crunch. It goes great with his homemade mustard, though he should heed suggestions to broaden the mustard selection for clients. Some folks like yellow, some like brown, and some are more willing to experiment.

Pickles: last night, the pickles weren’t ready, which is a shame, because he does great things with salt, water, spices, and vegetables. Pickled cucumbers snap with garlic authority, while green tomatoes are still juicy, yet firm. The red peppers have a great fire to them, so I look forward to checking all these out. There was also a smoked vegetable bowl, which had beets and other root veg in it. A great option for those non-meat eaters, who Noah has not forgotten.

Smoked Turkey: This is a whole spiced and wood smoked bird. Not some processed breast or even portion of one. The real deal. And it’s fantastic. Moist, smoky, a touch spicy. Well worth ordering.

Now, let’s get back to last night and the main event.

The “Beauty”: with apologies to Russ and Daughters, my favorite bagel, lox, and cream cheese sandwich on earth is found at Montreal’s Beauty’s, a classic diner with a Jewish flair. Noah and Rachel have their own homage to that glorious thing, serving a toasted Montreal bagel (flown in daily) with Batempte whipped cream cheese, fresh sliced tomato, red onion, capers, and homemade lox. Yes, that’s a side of salmon that Noah cures, smokes, and slices by hand. It’s gorgeous, and I’m actually looking forward to my breakfasts at Mile End in the future. For Montreal bagel fanatics, know that this is the only place in NYC to get the real deal.

The Ruth Wilensky: I think I’ve written enough about Wilensky’s that you should all know what I’m talking about here. Noah’s not trying to copy that sacred and secret sandwich, but this love affair is a wonderful thing. Take the beef salami he cures and smokes himself, slice it thin, and grill it between two halves of an onion bun…with mustard. No mustard is ten cents extra…just like Wilensky’s. It’s hot and crisp, and the homemade salami just seems to crackle with each bite. Really perfect. (*I don’t have a photo because I ate it too quickly)

Borscht: Light beet borscht with a dollop of sour cream. Refreshing, simple, and understated. Makes me so happy I’m peeing red (wait…that’s the beets).

Poutine: Half my party came for the poutine. Three were vegetarians, and the poutine with mushroom gravy, fresh cut fries, and cheese curds, was actually better than the one made from a chicken/veal stock. Both required ordering a second and even third round of. Yes, in a poutine crazed city, a new kid is on the block.

Smoked Meat: Which brings us, of course, to the main event. Montreal smoked meat, a la Brooklyn. Noah cures his briskets slowly, in a mixture of spices that is as aromatic as it is fiery. He then uses wood smoke to finish them off, steams them, and slices by hand. As I watched him carve away, I couldn’t actually believe that he is now the only other place in New York to hand slice his meat. Amazing. The meat was glorious: a fatty debauchery with flavor in every ounce of its fibre. Don’t compare it to Schwartz’s or Abie’s or anything else. Don’t compare to Katz’s or Carnegie or Empire National pastrami. This is something unique, which you’ll only find at Mile End, and it’s worth a taste, if not your outright devotion.

Overall, I think last night was the start of something magical. New York’s deli scene has been focused on the past for some time, and in many ways that’s a great thing. Katz’s, Carnegie, Stage, Sarge’s, 2nd AVe, Liebman’s, Adelman’s, Ben’s Best, etc… They’re all preserving what was, and what was, and is, remains exceptionally good. It’s the basis of deli culture all over the continent, and it is so damn delicious. But with an eye on the past, too few delis in New York have looked toward the future. And that’s left them vulnerable to becoming relics.

What Noah and Rachel have done at Mile End is take a first step toward a new future for Jewish deli in New York. They’re focusing on doing something different. Not fusion. Not “interpretations” of deli. Nothing fancy. Instead, they’re bringing it back to its roots, rebuilding a mom and pop style deli, where everything is made from scratch (local and seasonal and sustainable, when possible), and in the process, broadening the definition of what a deli can be in this deli mad city. They’ve introduced new flavors, new techniques, and done so in a small, economical, and friendly neighborhood atmosphere.

The food is delicious. Some things will improve (I’d love to see more zing in that coleslaw). Some things may not be for everyone. But if you love Jewish deli and find yourself in New York City, head over the bridges and tunnels to Hoyt and Atlantic, and take a seat at the counter in Mile End. It’s a hopeful look at the future of deli in deli’s homeland, and we should all welcome it with open hearts and mouths.

Mazel Tov!
Mile End Delicatessen
97A Hoyt Street (at Atlantic)
Brooklyn, New York 11217
info@mileendbrooklyn.com
718.852.7510


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Note the manliness of this hug.

23 Responses to “Mile End Opening Night: Beginning of “The End””

  1. sfmitch Says:

    Great write-up.

    I will be sure to check it out next time I am back east.

  2. Julia Says:

    It sounds wonderful! We might have to squeeze in a visit to Brooklyn! I agree with sfmitch – great write-up.

  3. aaron levy Says:

    Great review. Can’t wait to go and eat there. Soon, I trust.
    This is exactly what New York needs to “Save The Del.”

  4. Moshe Feder Says:

    I’ve been looking forward to trying Mile End since I first heard about it and your review only adds to my sense of anticipation.

    One question, though. You describe The Beauty as “my favorite bagel, lox, and cream cheese sandwich on earth” and go on to say that at Mile End it includes “Batampte whipped cream cheese, fresh sliced tomato, red onion, capers, and homemade lox.” Sounds great. But _then_ you say, “Yes, that’s a side of salmon that Noah cures, smokes, and slices by hand.” which sounds to me like he’s making smoked salmon, not lox.

    As I hope you know, lox is salmon cured with salt and NOT smoked. While I love smoked salmon too, I’ve always felt that it isn’t nearly as good with cream cheese (which tends to overpower it) as lox is. So pardon me for nitpicking, but it’s this confusion of the two that will inevitably lead to the extinction of real lox.

    So please clarify what Noah is actually making and serving in The Beauty, and please be careful in the future to maintain the distinction between smoked salmon and lox. As I said in the New York Times some years ago, “Save the lox; nova difference!”

  5. Moshe Feder Says:

    Oh, I almost forgot. How were the bagels? Less bland and flat-tasting than most from Montreal, I hope?

  6. Pastramiking Says:

    YES! I’m going there this weekend!

  7. meateater Says:

    Why did you bring vegetarians?

  8. Raph Says:

    Is it kosher?

  9. Ko to the enka Says:

    Moshe, you said Montreal bagels are bland and flat tasting?!? Where were you getting your bagels from, Provi Soir? St Viateur/Fairmount is where to go. Buy from anywhere else, and you might as well put away the lox (or smoked salmon, as it may be) and just stick to bread.

    Sacrilegious. Mtl bagels are the sh*t. Show some respect. ;)

  10. Jacko Says:

    Mazal tov guys!! we’re so proud of you and cant wait to eat there. mmm…poutine…..mmmm.

  11. Mark Rosenbloom Says:

    Noah, his wife Rachel, and his friends are extremely nice people. I am a hardcore Montrealer who was nursed on smoked meat. Like other’s, I eagerly anticipated the opening of this deli. I will talk only about the smoked meat, because let’s face it folks, that is what is important. I must say, that it was a huge disappointment. I am not opposed to trying new smoked meat recipes. I was there for the opening of Abie’s and, delighted with the product. Regrettably, I cannot say the same for Mile End. The smoked meat was missing half of the seasonings that you find in smoked meat. Where were the black peppercorns, the garlic and the coriander? Everything, including the Wilensky Special, was covered with an excess amount of what appeared to be mustard seeds. This was smoked brisket with mustard seeds. I like mustard, but as a spread. In addition, the portions weren’t big enough to feed an infant. I can say more, but I would like to see this place succeed. My advice to Noah is to change his recipe. All it takes is a little experimentation with the ingredients I mentioned above. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Do the smoked meat right, get rid of the mustard seeds (except maybe a much smaller amount in the rub), and you might still have a chance. Until then, I won’t be back.

  12. Steve Wax Says:

    I live a couple blocks from Mile End and have been peeking in the window every couple days for months. I’ve tried once since they opened by they seem to close at 4 or 5 PM, or when they run out. Can hardly wait to get in and actually eat. And it’s tremendous that they also cater to vegetarians! If only Building on Bond down the street, an otherwise terrific place did the same.

    Meanwhile, David, what’s your response to Moshe Feder’s lecture on lox versus smoked salmon? And Mark R: although your honest concern is appreciated, you outta watch your buzz kill quotient.

  13. Noah B Says:

    Hey Mark R. –

    Noah here; I am curious as to when it was that you came to eat because the first two days we were open I was serving my homemade mustard which was a coarse, yellow-seeded mustard. That said, I fail to understand how else, beside the use of this mustard, you could have actually perceived any mustard seed in either of the meats (it is in the cure and mixture for the smoked meat and wilensky, respectively, but not part of the final rub for the smoker). Furthermore, I have developed my own smoked meat recipe from scratch, which does include a tremendous amount of peppercorn, coriander seed, and fresh minced garlic. When you refer to Abie’s, you need to recognize that Abie’s dad was the counterman at Schwartz’s for 30 years so the accuracy of his recipe to that at Schwartz’s is, and should be, very similar. I am not trying to replicate what is done in Montreal; I am attempting to use the Smoked Meat that I grew up eating as an inspiration for a new sort of Smoked Meat, something I like to think of as “Jew-Barbecue,” more smoke, more cure, etc. And about the portions: I urge you to consider the cost of operating a food establishment in NYC in addition to the cost of committing to a food program that strives to celebrate our natural local agriculture through the use of organic and pastured raised meats, wild, line-caught fish, and produce grown on small, family farms. Yes, you can get twice the meat at Carnegie and Katz’s, albeit, at twice the price. All-in-all, I think me and Rae are making a lot of people happy for not very much money — It’s too bad you have chosen a completely public forum (including Yelp…) to express your highly subjective opinion of our Deli; Perhaps you should try returning for another visit, this time after having been open for more than 48 hours, before solidifying your opinion and expressing it to the entire world, like an actual food reviewer does.

  14. Big J Says:

    They now have bagels available for order every Saturday, you can order them off their website!!!
    mileendbrooklyn.com

  15. Carole Traster Says:

    OH MON D-EU !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  17. Unimpressed Says:

    I can see why this writer says “don’t compare it to Schwartz’s.” Because it’s nowhere near as good. Sorry, Noah. Your portions are miniscule and the smoked meat tastes… off-putting. “Jew-Barbecue?” Blech! I didn’t try anything else, but I’m not going back. And about the portions? Noah, if you are blaming the cost of rent (“the cost of operating a food establishment in NYC”) for the size of your portions… why did you open in Carroll Gardens, an area with one of the highest commercial rents in Brooklyn? The Bronx would have worked; East New York; Midwood; Forest Hills (in fact, almost anywhere in Queens) etc. etc. I realize CG is in the heart of the upwardly mobile, food lovin’ hipster crowd, but you could have opened a place probably three times as big for the same price in, say, Kew Gardens.

  18. Aharon Velvel Says:

    Ach! Why does it have to be treife?!

  19. Jonathan Posner Says:

    As a young person aspiring to be a deli man, this is the most encouraging blog post I’ve ever read in my life. Best of luck to Noah and Rachel. Next time I’m in New York, I’ll be stopping by for sure.

  20. Dee Says:

    Interesting that my husband just asked where I wanted to go on vacation. Hmmmm. I just emailed your blog to my brother on the West Side. Whatever he needs me to do in order to get there, it’ll happen. Last time I had hot pastrami was at Nate & Al’s in LA 18 months ago. Hungry in Utah, Dee

  21. smeltdealer Says:

    Great concept. execution not so great. actually brunch is better than the smoked meat is.

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