The news that Boerum Hill’s nouveau deli Mile End finally opened Monday warmed the hearts of Montreal expats — like me — across the tri-state area. Founded by a pair of 20-something Montreal transplants, Mile End will serve haimish old country food like smoked meat (house-cured here), karnatzel (thin Romanian sausage sticks) and Montreal-style sour pickles.
The place is named for a north downtown Montreal neighborhood where Eastern European Jewish immigrants settled in the first half of the 20th century. Now home to a diverse ethnic mix, Mile End has become the city’s trendiest quartier; The New York Times travel section chronicled its ascent last weekend.
At its Brooklyn namesake, almost everything will be made in-house, says proprietress Rae Cohen; her business partner and husband, former law-school student Noah Bernamoff, oversees the kitchen. Cohen says the fare at revered Montreal joints like Schwartz’s and Abie’s inspired the couple, who both attended McGill University as undergrads before moving to New York.
But the one item Mile End will import is also the food most likely to re-ignite old blood rivalries among former Montrealers: Bagels. There’s no debate that dense, chewy Montreal bagels look, taste, and feel superior to their counterparts anywhere in the world — sorry, New York, Toronto and London. But passionate discussions still rage over the source of the best Montreal bagel. Is it 53-year-old St. Viateur Bagel? Is it Fairmount Bagel, which has operated in some form since 1919? Or an upstart like Mount Royal Bagel Factory, north of downtown?
I had hoped Cohen and Bernamoff might take sides. But alas, Cohen refused to disclose the identity of their Montreal bagel connection. In a recent preview item, the fashion magazine Black Book had reported that St. Viateur was the source, but Cohen declined to confirm. “We’re not disclosing where we’re getting them. We don’t want to be part of the debate,” she said. In the interest of journalistic investigation, we’ll have to see if a taste reveals the bagel’s origins.