Week 9. The day had arrived. The day to face a deeply rooted childhood trauma. One school holiday Mother suggested we try the local Jewish bakery, Chalutz, for an indulgent lunch out. On this unfortunate occasion, the young foodish boy had one thing on his mind: sausage rolls. Scanning the cabinets I struggled to sight a single sausage among the savoury section. Heart-broken I proceeded to launch a tirade of abuse at the nearest baker. Next thing I know I’m being ushered out the bakery by a very embarrassed Mother. Needless to say I didn’t have anything for lunch. Thereafter I had never set foot inside another Jewish deli again. So it was with a somewhat nervous disposition that I arrived in Brooklyn to seek redemption as a chef at Mile End Deli.
Sadly, many New Yorkers tell me that the increased apathy of younger generations has led to a decline in traditional Jewish delis – a development which something like David Sax’s Save the Deli campaign tries to counteract. Even New York’s world-famous Katz deli is considered by many a museum of an age gone by, a monument to the time in the mid 20th Century when the Jewish deli was in its prime. Mile End Deli tackles this problem head on by breathing new life into old-world Jewish comfort food and thereby appealing to the young foodie community. With a heavy Montreal influence (more on this later), Mile End produces some of the city’s best cured and smoked meats, fish, pickled goods and freshly baked bagels. Bizarrely they even do a chinese menu on Sunday – a night inspired by the new-age Jewish tradition of going to the movies and eating chinese at Christmas. They tried it one year and it was so successful it became a regular feature.
My week began in the basement prepping for the evening dinner service in the blistering New York heat. First Josh gave me a whistle-stop tour of Jewish cuisine. Most of the dishes represent a take on Jewish classics, or classics with a Jewish spin. The traditional staple of pickled green tomatoes were given new life in a salad of green tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, preserved lemons , salt and olive oil. Chilled cucumber soup took on a Jewish persona with lox (smoked salmon), cream cheese, and dill.
The Montreal influence is most noticeable in the deli’s seriously bad ass smoked meat preparation. Typically Jewish style cured meats would be soaked in brine, cured, and then smoked. The Montreal style skips the brining aspect and heads straight to the dry curing and smoking (and in doing so approaches a style similar to the Texan BBQ). Take for example their smoked brisket. From the chest of the cow, brisket is extremely tough due to supporting 60% of cow’s weight.The brisket slab consists of two parts – the flat (lean part) and a fat cap on top of this. Mile End lovingly dry cure their brisket for 7 days, smoke it for 12 hours and steam it for an hour before serving. The resulting meat is so utterly delicious I could’ve eaten away their entire profit margin by feasting on slabs of it during service.
As the punters started to pour in Chef Eli and Josh turned into my Jewish Grandmother for the evening, fattening me up on samples of every dish on the menu…
As the evening drew to a close, I had eaten my way through some of the most delicious food of my entire trip so far. Better still I would be heading to their Manhattan location the following morning to cook and eat my way through an entirely different menu. Hmmm, I thought to myself, I wonder if they do sausage rolls?
Have you ever had an embarrassing food encounter? Share your experiences below.