Magazine article The New Yorker

Mile End

Magazine article The New Yorker

Mile End

Article excerpt

Comparing New York bagels to Montreal bagels is like comparing your grandmother's potato pancakes to somebody else's grandmother's--you can debate the objective merits of each, but chances are you prefer the latke you grew up on. Until recently, it was a moot point: Montreal bagels were nowhere to be found in the five boroughs. Now, Noah Bernamoff and Rae Cohen, a young couple who met as students at McGill, are giving New Yorkers a chance to study the competition up close: their matchbox-size Boerum Hill deli, named after a once primarily Jewish neighborhood in Montreal, is a loyal homage to the comfort food that still defines the area--and to the city at large, down to the Labatt Bleue on the menu and the hockey-player glossies in the rest room.

At first glance, the Montreal bagel, shipped hot from way up north, then "spritzed and shvitzed" as necessary (a splash of water, a quick turn in the oven), seems a mere shadow of its New York counterpart. Consider it foremost a vehicle for fixings, though, and you may even come to appreciate that it's smaller, denser, and sweeter--hand-rolled without salt and parboiled in honey water--a demure foil for cream cheese and lox or an excellent whitefish salad, coarse-chopped with celery, pickled asparagus, and dill. "Smoked meat," as Montrealers call their darker, earthier pastrami cousin, speaks loudly for itself. Bernamoff makes his own, dry-curing whole briskets in garlic, peppercorns, and coriander, then oak-smoking and steaming them. Drugstore-style counter seats afford a satisfying view as he carves the mountainous hunks of beef into craggy slices, to be sandwiched in Orwasher's rye bread or shredded atop the hand-cut frites, rich mushroom gravy, and melting cheese curds of a perfect poutine. …

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