97A Hoyt St, Boerum Hill, 718-852-7510
It takes some serious Canuck cajones to open a Montreal-style bagel and brisket joint in New York City. We've already got our share of superlative delis, yet every food blogger in the five boroughs seems to be jumping on Mile End's maple leaf-branded bandwagon. What gives? All the hype feels like a big-time betrayal—especially if you grew up locally and believe that bagels are your birthright—but when you cross the threshold of this neighborhoody Boerum Hill spot, it's hard to resist a north-of-the-border love affair.
Upon arrival, the server seems so happy to see you that you stop for a moment and wonder if you've met him before. The space is small and bright, with white tile-work on the walls and bold accordion lamps springing out over the tables, which you can expect to share with strangers. Coats hang from mod, oversized hooks. Silverware is wrapped in towels and tucked into mason jars on the bar.
Breakfast is served until noon, with Stumptown coffee poured into short, wide mugs. If you can stomach spending 11 bucks on a bagel, splurge on the open-faced Beauty (named for a legendary Montreal brunch place). It takes one much-hyped Montreal bagel—smaller, sweeter, and chewier than our native version, and rolled in sesame seeds—and piles each half with cream cheese, meltingly delicious smoked salmon, thickly sliced tomato, a sprinkling of capers, and slivers of raw red onions.
At noon on the dot, the guy making the sandwiches declares that breakfast is over and cranks up some old-school R&B. (By 12:15pm on a weekday, there's often a line out the door, and Mile End closes when the meat runs out, which usually happens around 4pm.) He plunks down some spice-crusted smoked meat on the counter behind the glass casing that separates the kitchen from the bar. The brisket yields easily to his knife, exposing its lush pink interior, as he raves about Dorando, the 70s soul singer behind the sex jams blaring through the speakers: "It's like the best of Sam Cooke, Al Green and Marvin Gaye rolled into one."
The heavy bass gets you in the mood for sultry smoked meat on rye. It's the kind of sandwich that makes you feel sorry for strict vegetarians. The just-fatty-enough brisket is succulent without being greasy, salty, peppery, a little spicy, and complemented by a smear of mustard. Big eaters might complain that it's on the small side, but that leaves room for poutine—fries topped with gravy and cheese curds ($8), one Montreal classic that you can enjoy without feeling like you're cheating on NYC.