Stepping into Mamaleh’s for the first time was like entering a food thought bubble from my mother’s head. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, my parents raised my brother and me in rural Wonder white-bread CT with a regular dose of their take on Jewish comfort food. Kugels, brisket, and pastrami were regulars, although getting good bagels and lox was a challenge. So we’d stock up on our trips to New York, getting a separate container of lox bits to devour on the car ride home.
Fast forward a number of years to my relocation to Boston and a vibrant Jewish community. Bagels here, lox there, a knish here, a bowl of matzo ball soup there – but until now, nothing has truly satisfied my craving for a good, consistent, modern Jewish deli. And then I heard about this new spot in Kendall Square.
New to the Mamaleh’s experience, my first foray was to their to-go deli area for a bagel and lox, my go-to breakfast to judge anyone claiming to be a Jewish deli. Five days after they officially opened, there were some delays and some visible jitters, but they made up for it in spades once I took my first bite. With a healthy portion of lox on a doughy bagel with a crunchy exterior, Mamaleh’s was off to a good start. We enjoyed our bagels at one of the five outdoor tables as we people watched the Sunday weekend warriors wander through Kendall Square.
My second time in, I sat at the team’s repurposed slate bar. The menu has a section dedicated to sodas – “house sodas” which range in flavor from pomegranate-ginger to classically Jewish celery, and “other people’s,” which includes Jewish staple (and my personal favorite) Dr. Brown’s. Every five minutes or so, we’d watch the bartender whip up a homemade egg cream – topped with a pretzel rod – which I am told by my mother is the only way to do it. Bar shelves are lined with Slivovitz, and other Eastern European spirits.
Lacking food order creativity, we went with a lox plate and a whitefish salad plate, each served with a bagel, onions, capers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. The platters were essentially Choose Your Own Adventure versions of the sandwiches and could be enough for two for a lighter breakfast option.
On my third visit – in three weeks – I arrived at the transition from breakfast to lunch and with several reservations coming in, we opted to sit at the bar again. We started the meal with a potato knish and 1 ½ packets of Gulden’s mustard. That crispy, flaky crust topped with toasted seeds enveloped expertly smashed and seasoned potatoes.
It was at this point that Alon Munzer (manager/co-owner) made his way over, explaining that he kept looking at me from the kitchen thinking I was his twin sister surprising him with a visit. After chatting for a while and congratulating him on the place, and possibly disappointing him by not being his sister, we ordered our next course.
Diversifying from smoked fish to smoked meat, I ordered the hash and eggs, which came perfectly crisped with two runny fried eggs and two giant slices of marble rye toast. My partner in Mamaleh’s crime had a pastrami and chopped liver sandwich. I am no chopped liver connoisseur by any means, but Mamaleh’s fluffy mousse-like version was superb, with none of the usual bitterness. And the cured and smoked in-house pastrami did not disappoint.
While we were mid-bite, Rachel Munzer (mother hen/co-owner) swung by to weigh in on the do-I-look-like-Alon’s-sister debate. Learning about her Milwaukee roots and Alon’s CT upbringing added another personal element to the restaurant. We discussed plans for catering spreads and her ideas for High Holiday platters – an indication that Mamaleh’s has no plans of slowing down.
As if we weren’t stuffed enough, Alon brought over house made bagel chips with a healthy portion of the whitefish salad. I have a very strict policy of not putting things [read: celery, anything green and crunchy] in whitefish salad, but I must say that despite this [personal] flaw, the whitefish salad was impressive – even addicting.
And so, I sat down to write this just after my fourth visit to a bustling deli, in just as many weeks. I am beyond satiated and content. I stole a couple of bites of a mouthwatering Barney Greengrass sandwich – sturgeon, cream cheese, cucumber, tomato on an onion bialy – and I will absolutely be ordering it for myself next time. After making my way further down the menu, and indulging in over-sized and over-stuffed blintzes with raspberry preserves, I can safely say that Mamaleh’s is no joke.
With its strategically selected and placed kitsch and consistently comforting fare, Mamaleh’s has quickly established itself as a neighborhood joint that has other-side-of-the-river dwellers (like me) trekking to Kendall week after week. Aside from charging $5 for a pickle plate that would be complimentary at any other Jewish deli, Mamaleh’s prices are reasonable. If it continues to cater to the Jews by birth/choice/osmosis who are familiar with Jewish comfort cuisine, while simultaneously introducing Jewish deli fare to those less experienced, Mamaleh’s will have a long and successful future.
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