It should be simple right? Canadians like Montreal-style bagels, the smaller, denser, slightly sweeter variety. But New Yorkers will defend theirs to the death: a fluffier roll available in dozens of flavours, sometimes waiting in-line for hours to get the perfect bagel with cream cheese and nova (Nove Scotian smoked salmon). Lately, the Montreal-style has been making inroads in New York, changing some minds in the process.
For New Yorkers, Montreal and its hearty cuisine is hip right now: poutine, smoked meat and Quebec-inspired haute-cuisine, if not exactly a trend, is gaining a reputation as a novel take on classic comfort food. The talk of 2011 was M. Wells, an idiosyncratic Queens diner run by former Pied au Cochon cook Hugue Dufour and his wife Sarah Obraitis that is reopening this years as the cafeteria for the contemporary art museum PS1.
Noah Bernamoff is a Montreal native who runs Mile End in Brooklyn: a Quebec-centric homage to traditional Jewish cooking and arguably the guy who started the Montreal bagel craze here. Mile End imports bagels from Montreal’s famous St. Viateur’s daily with the belief that trying to reproduce it in New York just wouldn’t be as good.
Bernamoff says he sees the Montreal bagel as a kind of throwback.
“When bagels came to North America they were pretty similar to a Montreal bagel both in Montreal and New York,” he says. It was the American post war period, Bernamoff believes, that really hurt Jewish American cooking.
“In the fifties and sixties people were seeking convenience and huge portions.” Price became more important than quality and that’s what you get with most deli food today. Bernamoff sees the average street-corner bagel as heir to that tradition.
“It’s very inconsistent,” says Bernamoff, “as ubiquitous as white bread: just another way to make a sandwich.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t grab a New York style bagel from time to time. Kossar’s on the Lower East Side, famous for bagel-like Bialy’s, is one of his faves.
But Mile End serves much more than just St. Viateur bagels. It also does a Montreal smoked meat sandwich, poutine and a host of more upscale options like veal sweetbreads and Kasha Varnishkes: duck confit, chicken & veal meatballs, gizzards and gribenes.
Image courtesy of afternoon_sunlight.