In the east, a Great Bagel War rages.
The New York bagel is the prototype. Boiled and then baked in a steamy hot oven, they come out fat and glossy, golden like a roasted chicken. The exterior is chewy, the interior is soft, and the surface is wide and substantial enough to hold up a heaping schmear of cream cheese and a deli case of toppings. In Montreal, the underdog takes a smaller, denser form. This interpretation has a larger hole in the center, and is boiled in honey water and finished in a wood-fired oven. You won’t find many of them sliced and served as sandwiches; they’re more likely torn and dipped into spreads.
To which side do we, humble Minnesotans, pledge our allegiance? We mostly butt out, on account of hating conflict and loving carbs unconditionally. But with Meyvn, the Lake Street deli/bar/bagel shop from Saint Dinette’s Tim Niver, Laurel Elm, and chef Adam Eaton, we might have stumbled into a hybrid that keeps us comfortably in the middle.
Though billed as Montreal-style, Meyvn’s bagels aren’t as sweet or simplistic as their Quebecois counterparts. Montreal’s version typically comes in just two varieties: sesame and poppy seed. Meyvn offers plain, everything, onion and garlic, brown sugar, and sesame. And while they’re wood-fired in Montreal’s trademark style, giving them that faint smokiness and crisp finish, they’re then sliced, à la New York bagels, and topped with your preferred combination of cream cheese, lox, capers, onions, arugula, tomato, egg, Taylor ham, pastrami, smoked salmon, etc. Meyvn’s bagels have the density of a Montrealer, but get the treatment of the New York classic.
Since you’ll likely be dressing yours up in sandwich form, we enthusiastically recommend pairing the green-onion cream cheese with pastrami salmon. It isn’t cheap at $13, but it earns its price tag in the supple, smoke-edged fish. If you like your breakfast for less than a tenner, a simpler bagel and cream cheese schmear with tomato, onion, capers, cucumbers, and arugula is a reasonable $5. An undressed one is two bucks.
The bagel isn’t the only way Meyvn borrows and breaks from tradition. While its menu has the distinct bent of a Jewish deli in Brooklyn, with lox and matzo ball soup and pastrami on rye, there’s also an infusion of Israeli and Mediterranean flavors, as in the shakshouka and the hummus and the lamb poutine with ras el hanout. Then there’s the Polish pierogi, the oozy diner cheeseburger, and a Middle Eastern take on spicy fried chicken. In the same column of the menu, you’ll find fried cauliflower with tahini, potato latkes with horseradish and beet, and a standard Cobb salad. This is a collection of culinary traditions blended to create an essential, eclectic take on Jewish food.
Not every item is wholly successful. The soup broth was thin on flavor, a letdown for the perfect softball of matzo and hearty hunks of dark meat chicken. Shakshouka, typically a dish of eggs basted in a rich, fiery tomato sauce, also suffered from a lack of depth; the sauce was flat, overpowered by the one-note sweetness of stewed tomatoes. Its savior was a delectable wood-fired pita that had a softness and crisp edge to make us cringe at all the dry, spongey pitas we’ve eaten in our time. Of the menu highlights, the pierogi with farmer’s cheese and crème fraiche were an unforgettable comfort, like the first flush of warmth after a day in the snow. We think lusty thoughts about these creamy potato and cheese morsels, topped with an unexpected cluster of juicy roe. We’ll stop ourselves before we go too far: Order these, morning, noon, or night.
Happily, you can, as Meyvn has condensed its breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus since opening in June, offering the same items all day long. It’s a single-page menu—food on one side, drinks on the other—that has us breathing a sigh of relief: One person’s sea of choices is another’s wasteland of indecision. We tend toward the latter.
Where your options expand a bit is with a changing prix fixe dinner, which recently included a buttery chicken liver mousse with duqqa spice, pickled grapes, and those warm chunks of grilled pita. On the main menu, you’ll find entree selections for an individual meal—any of the sandwiches, for instance—but we enjoyed ordering up a mix of plates to share, like that chicken liver mousse, along with a hefty portion of fried yet supple cauliflower in a pool of tangy yogurt sauce, and the hot, fried potato latkes with a trio of dips: sour cream, apple butter, and a beet horseradish sauce. Israeli hot chicken, spicy with a little sugar mixed in, is a mighty fine plate of fried chicken: crackling on the outside and juicy on the inside, with a cucumber tahini sauce to tame the heat.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a rightful Jewish deli without a pastrami sandwich, and Meyvn meets the challenge with a honking pile of tender spiced meat on rye bread, served alongside a Schwartz’s Kosher half-pickle and a bright pickled potato salad. The balance of fat, spices, and pucker is precise in this combination, only enhanced by a dilly Bloody Mary (the Bloody Merriam), should you be inclined. If a hot sandwich is in order, the cheeseburger is a squishy delight that drips its melty Swiss onto the wax paper it sits on. Make the McDonald’s-style French fries your side of choice and revel in the familiar flavors of childhood.
Another nostalgic flavor appears during Meyvn’s ample happy hour, from 2 to 6 p.m. daily. The pizza bagel, a classic after-school snack, is imagined here as adult food, with that morning’s bagel as the base for layers of spicy tomato sauce, feta, mozzarella, and torn basil. It’s just $5 for a hearty snack or light dinner. Dessert will cost you more than that ($7), but it’s a worthy finale. Skip the too-sweet maple crème brûlée and direct your attention to the warm carrot cake, a cube with a caramelized crust baked on all sides and cream cheese frosting that melts down to a pool at the bottom of the plate.
Meyvn is an enigma. It’s a deli, but also a cocktail bar; a bagel shop, but also a small-plates restaurant. During the day, you order at the counter; in the evening there’s table service. At 8 a.m., it’s a bright breakfast pitstop packed with families, and at 7 p.m. it’s a quieter, candlelit date spot for sharing a very sexy plate of pierogi. (Seriously, get the pierogi already.)
We don’t have the luxury of New York’s expansive dining scene, where a shop owner can make a living on the bagel rush alone. Instead, we get a mashup of several spots in one, a do-it-all place that serves numerous purposes and a variety of cuisines. We get the marvelous Meyvn.