New York City is a great place to escape past national identities but also where you can cling onto old ones. For travelers and expatriates there are certain addresses that provide convenient placeholders for cultures too far away to visit on a regular basis.
Montreal Comes to Brooklyn
Friends and acquaintances who are sick of hearing me extol the virtues of Montreal bagels, smoked meat, and (for readers of my previous posts) poutine, can now take heart. All those things that make me pine nostalgically for my French-speaking homeland are now available for the price of a ride on the G Train in Brooklyn. Mile End is a little deli in the fashionable, trendy Boerum Hill neighborhood named after a trendy, fashionable Montreal neighborhood. Their menu is a greatest hits of local favorites: The “mish-mash” is a nod to legendary West-End diner Cosmos and its cook’s tour dish of eggs, starch and breakfast meats – Mile End’s version comes with salami or lox.
“The Beauty” is a breakfast bagel plate named after Beauty’s, one of the city’s original brunch destinations and there’s the Ruth Willensky. The pressed beef salami classic honors the matriarch of one of the most iconic lunch counters in Canada (a childhood favorite of Mile End’s most famous resident, writer Mordechai Richler.) The Ruth Willensky sandwich is an eerily reminiscent echo of the original and is highly recommended whether you’ve ever set foot above the 49th parallel. Mile End isn’t just some sort of nostalgic culinary cover band, though, and has original creations that are rave-worthy too. Its take on Montreal’s famous smoked meat might even trump the original and they make the best poutine I’ve ever had this side of Chicoutimi. Diehards and neophytes alike will appreciate the authentic shipped-from-the-homeland bagels and little touches like the brasserie-style soap dispenser and Labatt Bleue beer. Then there are the vintage photos of Montreal Canadiens hockey players, prompting my friend to say, “you should go see the bathroom, it might make you cry”. Homesick Montrealers will know what she means.
A Korean Mainstay in Midtown
One of the enduring memories of my visit to Korea was its French-themed bakeries. Koreans’ fascination with all things Gallic extends to everything from notebooks with slightly random French phrases to the proliferation of shoe stores with Eiffel-Tower motifs. Paris Baguette is one of the two big chains in the country and its foothold in America was recently extended to New York’s Korea-Town. Oddly enough, entering the brightly-lit sweet shop brought back memories of my trip to Seoul as vividly as any kimchee and kalbi joint. The array of sweets and savories swings thematically between French classics like fluffy mousse cakes, to Asian treats like the green pea pastry that looks like a flower with puffy glazed petals. The Korean bread looks otherworldly and comes with cute little descriptions that require a translator or a helpful Korean-speaking companion. (Sample product descriptions: ” Sitting or standing I think about chocolate”, “With one bite twice enchanted” and my favorite for walnut cream bread: “Kind monster’s walnut club”) Their take on spongy-doughed bread seems to have no limits. The chestnut variety is good in a not-too-sweet way and the Mocha bread is a winner once you get past its appearance. It looks like it’s made of hard molded plastic and is known as “pock-marked bread.” The sense of being back in Seoul is enhanced by the mostly Korean clientele, but the effect was diminished slightly when the cashier asked, “And how are you today?” A dead giveaway I was in America.
Old Blighty in the West Village
The streets of the West Village seem particularly well suited to English ex-pats hoping to recreate a British facsimile of home in Manhattan. The streets zig and zag in a city where an oppressive grid of numbered boulevards usually holds sway. Squint a little as you look onto Greenwich Avenue from inside chip shop A Salt and Battery and maybe, just maybe you could pretend that you’re in Manchester, or Brighton, instead of the heart of the New World. The Haddock was a deep-fried rectangle of delicious and the sole came in a curved filet of crispy perfection accompanied by thick cut fries (topped with malt vinegar of course). The place itself is a small sliver of real estate and its irregular dimensions, steel counter tops, and old school letterboard menu announcing classics like chip butty or mushy peas are true to form. The deep-fried Mars bar ought to be experienced but the less said about it the better. As we were leaving we crossed paths with a shaved-headed Arsenal football supporter excitedly anticipating the midweek matchup with Barcelona. If you want to take some England home with you there’s the Tea and Sympathy shop next door and Myers of Keswick a short walk away for all your marmalade and baked beans needs.