A Little Jewish Deli For Everyone: Q&A With Mile End’s Noah Bernamoff

Yesterday, Mile End owners Noah and Rae Bernamoff released their first cookbook, The Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food From Hash to Hamantaschen. The finished product took about a year to compile, and, with the culinary efforts of Michael Stokes, Rich Maggi, and Dave McAnnich, the couple produced a nostalgic cookbook filled with their restaurants’’ staples like smoked meat hash, beef on weck, and pickled beets. After Mile End opened their second store this past year, and plan on doing more beyond the cookbook, we thought we would catch up with Noah and see how they managed to make Jewish comfort food and Mile End such a popular brand.

Wow, you guys have grown like crazy since you opened the tiny shop in Brooklyn. Did you have any idea it would be so successful?
We had a very simple mission at first, and it wasn’t necessarily tied to being abundantly successful.  We wanted to follow our passions and experience something truly valuable in life. Of course, no one sets out in business to not make money. While we feel very fortunate to have such amazing staff and customers now, our initial motivation to start Mile End came from a place with much lower, traditional business expectations.

Why do you think people have such a hankering for your smoked meat?
I think people appreciate authentic food, food that speaks to their soul and has meaning. Without trying to be nostalgic, I created something personal and quirky that also touched others. I don’t completely understand the psychology of it, but people have a very deep-seated connection to the delicatessen, and obviously, Jews in particular.

When did you start thinking you wanted to do a cookbook and why?
We never actively thought about writing a book. The opportunity to pitch the concept came our way and, only then, did we begin realizing how much we had developed and created. The reality is restaurants rarely release cookbooks for financial gain, we do it because of something deeper and, in our case, and it’s a belief that the Mile End playbook is a valuable tool in the much-needed discussion of modern day Jewish cooking. To attempt to make Jewish food relevant and to inspire others to start cooking it at home is the goal of the book. To tell our story and to augment the status of the brand is secondary.

Did you know Jewish comfort food would be such a sought after cuisine? 
I don’t know that a handful of new restaurants, a deli and an appetizing shop serving Jewish food in a city of nearly a million Jews and tens of thousands of eating and drinking establishments necessarily qualifies Jewish comfort food as a sought after cuisine, but, to answer the question, no. This is a cuisine that is all but forgotten, so what remains, and what is new, is merely filling a tiny corner of a massive void.

What are the top five classic Jewish comfort foods?
Pastrami or smoked meat on rye with mustard, full-sour pickles, chicken soup, chopped liver, and a bagel with cream cheese and lox.

This is a selfish question because I love your bagels. Why are Montreal bagels so good, and why doesn’t anyone else sell them?
Montreal bagels are the best bagels in the world because they’re made the exact same way bagels were made a hundred years ago: high-gluten dough, hand-rolled, par-boiled in honey-infused water, covered in seeds, and baked in a smoky, seething hot deck oven. No corners cut, and no part of the process falling victim to convenience.

Now that you have the cookbook out, what’s next for team Mile End?
We’re always on the move, as you know. We’ve got some cool projects in the works for 2013 and excited to keep broadening our food program. We’re also excited to launch our shiny new website, which will have a growing editorial component along with an online store so fans from across the country can get their hands on Mile End products. In the short term, we plan to launch a house-baked bagel program at both locations and a fun dinner menu at the sandwich shop, and, of course, to get out into the world to promote the book and spread the gospel of good deli.

[Read our interview with Noah Bernamoff from our 2010/2011 New Regime Issue!]

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