Battle of the Montreal Bagels and Lox: Mile End vs. Marketa
On its own, the Montreal-style bagel isn't a particularly jaw-dropping creation: made with egg and malt, and lacking salt, it's boiled in a honey solution and baked in a wood-fired oven. It's more fine-boned than its bloated New York-style counterpart, and sweeter and denser; it also has a bigger hole. And until February, it was more or less unseen in these parts.
Mile End gave French Canadian expats and Brooklyn-based carbophiles a new lease on life in February, when it started a Montreal bagel delivery service. Baked at Montreal's famed St.-Viateur and spirited across the border by some buddies of the restaurant's owner, the bagels soon made their way onto the deli's menu in the form of the Beauty. Served closed or open-faced, it featured one of St.-Viateur's sesame seed-encrusted specimens smeared with cream cheese, draped with tomato slices and house-cured salmon, and garnished with slivered purple onions and a spray of capers.
The Beauty was one of the city's more attractive sandwiches, and certainly the first to give the Montreal bagel such loving and aesthetically pleasing treatment. But then, earlier this month, news spread of a midtown Montreal bagel infiltration. This one came courtesy of Marketa, a cheese and retail shop newly opened by the owner of the nearby Estiatorio Milos, which has another location in Montreal. Marketa also carried St.-Viateur bagels, and was also serving them with lox and cream cheese. So obviously a Battle of the Dishes was in order.
First up was Marketa's bagel and lox. Pretty much everything at Marketa is expensive, and the sandwich is no exception: forking over $12.50, we mused that the same sandwich, albeit on a New York bagel, would cost about $4 less at Russ & Daughters. As it turned out, Marketa uses Russ's Irish organic salmon, which in part explains the price hike. The bagels themselves come in poppy seed or sesame seed. We chose poppy, and stood back and watched while it was shellacked with a healthy amount of cream cheese, and then piled high with the salmon.
Although the price fostered a certain amount of skepticism, the sandwich was fantastic. The bagel itself was fine -- sweet, soft, and a little bland -- but the lox was the real reason to keep eating. Silky, plush, and mild but just salty enough, it would have been worth devouring even if it had come on a stale slice of Wonder Bread. It was lox to get lost in, and more or less rendered the bagel irrelevant, though the pleasant tang of the cream cheese proved a worthy accompaniment.