The Jewish Meat: Noah Bernamoff of Mile End
When historians look back on 2010 Brooklyn, they will uncover dozens of articles on the phenom that is the Mile End Delicatessen, and for good reason: owner Noah Bernamoff opened the restaurant not to cash in on the foodie trend, … Read More
When historians look back on 2010 Brooklyn, they will uncover dozens of articles on the phenom that is the Mile End Delicatessen, and for good reason: owner Noah Bernamoff opened the restaurant not to cash in on the foodie trend, but for the simple fact that he missed the smoked pastrami of his home to the north, Montreal. To say that Mile End has busted out of the gate and onto the pages of every New York magazine that matters is an understatement, but the Canadian restaurateur is modest about his quick success, and as you will read in this interview, the guy really cares about the food he makes, and the hungry Brooklynites that are fast becoming his biggest fans.
You dropped out of law school to open Mile End? Is your mother worried? Well, I’m technically still on a leave of absence. I indeed left permanently or temporary to do this. I wasn’t very happy in law school, and this was something I really wanted to do for awhile, and I suppose I felt inspired at the time. It was a bold moment perhaps, and rather just feeling enslaved to the process that law school puts you, or fits you into, I decided to do something I really wanted to do. I have a lot of friends who are either in law school or have recently finished it, and I can’t tell who seems more unhappy. It’s not rare that I speak to a lawyer that’s been practicing for 20 or 30 years that they say I wish I did what you did. Even if I do finish it’s more to feel a sense of completion. It’s not my primary focus. What started your interest in smoked meat? Obviously it’s popular in Montreal, but was it something you’ve been doing your entire life, did you have to go back home and take a class or something, was the talent bestowed upon you in a dream? It was born out of a loss. I moved [from Montreal], and when you lose something, you miss something. I was yearning from it. It’s not even the same to buy some in Montreal and just bring it back down because it just loses it’s entire character. It’s not warm, it’s not sliced by hand. It’s the kind of thing I did because I wanted it for myself. Prior to moving to Brooklyn, did you have any preconceived notions that the delicatessens were better than they actually are? I don’t think I had any opinions. I just did it. It’s important to me, but it wasn’t the do all, end all. I wasn’t born on a meat slicer. My families not at all in the food business. It’s just something that’s part of my Jewish-Montreal psyche. It’s that embedded with the culture I grew up with. But the fact that I moved into an area and there was not a single deli that I’d ever come across is astonishing given that it’s New York. There are no delis left. The ones that are, are based off being tourist traps… The meat that comes out of Montreal is different that what their making at a Katz’s or 2nd Ave. Deli… Yeah, it’s not a huge distinction, but it is a different thing. The meat is butchered differently. It’s spiced differently, cured differently. Like a place like Schwartz’s, that has the most smoked meat in Montreal, for the reason that they are one of two delis that actually make their own meat. It’s also the vibe. There’s more to the final product. It’s about dedication in Montreal, there’s an authenticity to things: the original way of doing things. The bagels speak to that too. That’s one reason why I’m a big fan of Montreal bagels is yeh, their a totally different product, but there is a totally different philosophy to making bagels. Another thing I find interesting is that when the meat runs out, you’re done for the day… We usually go a little bit past when the meat runs out, but more or less. During the week that’s roughly around 4 o’clock, sometimes just a hair earlier, and then on the weekends, it’s typically earlier. But sometimes I’m able to sit an extra brisket or two for the weekend, but not every time. It seemed like the last few years, Brooklyn has been undergoing something of a bacon trend. Is Canadian smoked meat the next big thing? I love bacon. I’d be happy for the bacon trend to continue because I just have an affinity for all food. I have a cultural love for Jewish food. Kashrut is bogus anyway. So now that you have your own smoked meat place in Brooklyn, do you feel more at home? Yes and no. I still miss the way I was able to live in Montreal, but since I’ve moved here, I’ve loved living in Brooklyn. Could I imagine a place other than Brooklyn to do this? Probably not. I definitely feel at home. One last question, since you’re a Canadian living in New York, and the NHL regular season is coming closer to an end: have you become a Rangers fan? Hell no. There’s no way. No fucking way. I could be cool with the Knicks because I’ve never had a team of my own, but when it comes to hockey, there’s one team that has my heart and that’s the Montreal Canadians.