So many food magazines, tv shows and blogs have gushed about Mile End Deli I was surprised it wasn't bigger . . . and busier.
I settled at the counter of recycled bowling alley wood looking into the tiny kitchen and ordered matzo ball soup, ignoring for a moment one of the specialties of this modern Montreal-style deli, poutine -- french fries with cheese curds and gravy. I was on a mission.
Much as I'd read, Mile End's Matzoh balls are light due to a dash of baking powder which makes them not kosher for passover, the holiday where they are traditionally served (no leavening is allowed), but fluffy and flavorful. The vegetables are unusually crunchy and the broth flavorful if a little salty -- maybe over-reduced from a day in the hot pots.
Between bites I chatted with the not overly friendly, slightly bored waiter-host.
"How did you hear about us?" he inquired.
"You're everywhere." I said referring to the constant stream of press the Brooklyn deli has received.
He nodded knowingly.
I confessed I had never eaten the other house specialty, Montreal style smoked meat. He offered up a tasting dish. $7 for 4 small slices.
Judging from Mile End's version, smoked meat, American pastrami's Northern cousin, is less fatty and more heavily, well, smoked. Pastrami is more assertively spiced and brined. Smoked meat is dry cured and has a denser texture. It seems like what would result if Texas barbecue and Katz's pastrami had a beefy brisket baby. I like it.
"This could become a problem," I say. "It's not really like anything else."
The waiter leaned heavily on the counter and nodded in agreement. "When I haven't been at work for a few days I start to crave it," he explained.
I munched my slices with a bit of spicy mustard and watched Mile End's young cook prepare their smoked meat burger and bags of yummy looking fries.
Then suddenly I looked a little closer.
At first she was just another tattooed twenty-something but I noticed something on her arm. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Her back to me, I ask "Does your arm say Petaluma?"
She turned quickly to give me a better view and I saw not just the name of the little town near our Norcal ranchette but an image of one of my favorite hometown icons -- a fluffy baby chick from a former hatchery on Petaluma Blvd. How often I've dreamed of owning that very sign.
Suddenly we were all friends sharing hometown stories and favorite landmarks.
When I least expect it I am blindsided by a Cheers moment in hipster, artisanal Brooklyn. It's not such a big city after all.