Restaurateur Noah Bernamoff has brought a taste of Montreal to the streets of Brooklyn. In early 2010, Bernamoff opened the Mile End Deli, a restaurant serving up reimagined Montreal classics in the trendy Boerum Hill neighbourhood, which is popular among foodies for its plethora of highly-ranked restaurants.
Since its opening, the Mile End Deli has become a local institution that attracts diners seeking to reminisce about life in Montreal by way of its cuisine. In March 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even paid the restaurant a visit.
“People love Montreal and they have really fond memories [of] visiting, including New Yorkers and people around the country,” Bernamoff said. “Sometimes it [comes] back to bite us because people make the comparison, which is something that is endemic to [the] deli and some other kinds of categories of food, kind of old-school foods, […] like bagels, pizza, everyone sort of loves to rank them in some sort of order from best to worst.”
Bernamoff, McGill alumnus and Montreal native, took a path into the restaurant industry that was far from conventional. The 2005 Political Science graduate initially pursued a career in music and later moved to New York to attend the Brooklyn Law School. However, while on tour with his band, Lovely Feathers, Bernamoff developed a passion for cooking.
“The way a band’s schedule works is that you’re on tour for awhile and you’re back for awhile, so it's sort of like long stretches of, like, home and away,” Bernamoff said. “I really started during those years to pick up cooking as an occupier of time, not an occupation, but something to do that was interesting, that engaged my creativity and my dexterity […] and I just kind of continued from there.”
Without any experience in business management or in the hospitality industry, Bernamoff decided to open a restaurant, and the Mile End Deli was born. Bernamoff drew his inspiration from the Mile End neighbourhood and the tradition of Jewish delis in Montreal when creating the restaurant’s menu. Bernamoff’s roots in the Mile End are deep; he was not only a resident of the Mile End, but can trace his family history to the area as well.
“My grandparents grew up in [the] Mile End and Outremont, back in the 30s and 40s, so [the idea behind the Mile End Deli] is historically relevant from my upbringing,” Bernamoff said. “Then, when I was attending McGill, I lived in the Plateau, and then [the] Mile End for six or seven years.”
Many of the menu’s items pay homage to Montreal institutions: the “Beauty” is an egg sandwich named after the Plateau’s popular breakfast joint, Beauty’s, and the “Ruth Wilensky” is a fried salami sandwich inspired by the signature dish at Wilensky’s Light Lunch.
Yet, the Mile End Deli is far from the traditional Montreal deli. Bernamoff and his team of chefs collaborated to reinvent the dishes of the Mile End so that they reflected the convergence of cultures in the area. Revamped cultural dishes, such as a smoked meat burger, chicken shish taouk pita, and dandan noodles with broccoli are all on its current menu.
“It’s not meant to be a carbon copy [of Montreal delis],” Bernamoff said. “[.…] It’s meant to be inspired by the classics from the neighbourhood, and also [symbolic of the fact] that [the] Mile End has become a melting pot. It was an immigrant melting pot 70, 80 years ago. We are inspired by not just Jewish deli, we try to mix the Jewish deli part into the food of a community that is somewhat of a melting pot.”
Additionally, the quality ingredients used at the Mile End set the restaurant apart from other delis. The Mile End Deli prides itself for using fresh and locally-sourced ingredients.
“[The Mile End Deli] was the first deli in the [U.S.] where we knew where everything was coming from and so we also played up that narrative,” Bernamoff said. “Everything was being handmade and not processed in a big factory using commodity-grade beef and turkey, the salmon is natural and coming from naturally sustained aquaculture farms.”
In addition to the flagship restaurant in Brooklyn, the deli has expanded to locations in NoHo and Midtown Manhattan. For Montrealers who find themselves hungry and homesick in New York City, the cure just might be a classic reuben sandwich at the Mile End Deli.