84 Federal Street
7am - late
When I was six I was once so ill I could barely eat for a week. To compensate, I was given a selection of sugary drinks, which was my first insight into the delight and desperation of choice. I occupied an entire afternoon with continuous laps of sips, going from bright orange to bright pink to bright purple bottles with a steely gazed indulgence.
My enjoyment of this previously untapped nectar was, however, tainted by the fact that while I was drinking one drink, I couldn’t help lusting after a sip of the next. It was voracious and childish greed untamed, the tyranny of which, I realised upon entering Federal Delicatessen, I have yet to escape.
How anyone could read this menu without wanting to eat every, single, thing is beyond me. Although I was at lunch, I wanted breakfast, I wanted Pickled Pork with Poached Eggs, I wanted Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes with Cinnamon Butter and Strudel…I wanted cherry cola, but I also wanted a cup of Joe, of cocoa, of house-made creaming soda… I wanted it all because it sounded familiar, but mega.
Perhaps this is the result of the accumulation of talent, experience and references Federal Deli draws upon. Inspired by traditional New York Jewish delicatessens, the kind of diner style establishments we’re familiar with from films like When Harry Met Sally, there are also references to Al Brown’s Montreal days – bagels, poutine and an undefinable sense of Canadian casualness that makes the whole place ooze authenticity.
Which is good, because the words ‘New York’ and ‘diner’ can instantly evoke a pastiche of Elvis posters and gaudy ice cream colours that are subtly avoided at the Fed. Al said he wanted to be able to dress someone up in period costume, sit them in the centre of the interior and take a black and white photograph that could have easily been taken 80 years ago. And he’s succeeded; everything from the uniforms to the menu racks have been researched and replicated to an incredibly historically accurate degree. Even the staff seem to exude a charm that’s of another age.
But back to the menu. It reads so well, and when your eyes look up from the page, the words translate into some of the most delicious food imaginable, which is unsurprising when you discover Depot extraordinaire Kyle Street and team are also behind it. My favourite was a fresh, bitter and sweet salad atop a bed of beautifully pickled ox tongue. Bitter cress and witloof were offset with the sweetness of tuna mayo and sour bursts of caperberry.
It was a million miles away from the carby dishes you might typically associate with diner style eating, which of course there are plenty of, in indulgent, comforting abundance. We decided that the matzo ball soup made with Best Ugly Bagels was the cheapest doctor’s appointment you could have at $16. A hearty broth with shredded chicken and vegetables, and doughy dumplings, it’s one of those dishes that even on the first mouthful feels like you’ve had it all your life.
I can feel the six year old me creep back in as I feel guilty about writing a single item at a time, so I simply urge you to go on multiple visits to try everything for yourself.
You could even order everything on the menu in one go and do a six year old continuous lap of bites and sips, this is the kind of place where you wouldn’t be judged. And leave room for pudding – the Banoffee Pie with Popcorn, the Baked Cheesecake, the Chimney Sweep Milkshake – there are no more words…