Romanians consume 440 million mici — grilled garlicky rolls of minced meat (typically lamb, pork, or beef, or a mixture), frequently described as skinless sausages — per year, Radu Iosif, co-owner of the Plateau’s forthcoming Romanian fast-casual restaurant, Mici D’ici, tells Eater.
He’s referring to data released by the Romanian Meat Association back in 2017, which specifies that many sausage-shaped rolls amount to approximately 20,000 to 25,000 tons, the range presumably owing to variations in their size. (If their name is any indication, though, they shouldn’t be too hefty; “mici” or “mititei” translates to “little ones,” referring to their petite proportions.)
Mici are so widely adored in the country that, earlier this summer, in the face of vaccination hesitancy, Radu Mihaiu, the mayor of Bucharest’s Sector 2, decided to offer the meat morsels for free to anyone who stopped by to get the jab at a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic set up in Obor Market, the capital city’s largest and oldest public market, and a maze replete with stalls dishing out the quintessential Romanian street food.
Having spent his first 20 years in Romania, Iosif says he can attest to the ubiquity of mici, a historically working-class food, typically eaten with toothpicks, on a carton, with mustard, and often accompanied by some bread, a mound of fries, and a crisp, cold draft beer. “Any barbecue that I’ve ever had with my family, mici was there, so when I smell smoking or grilling, I think back to it. When you say ‘Romania,’ I say ‘mici,’” Iosif says.
Now, he and his business partner, David Ponce, say they want to popularize the dish in Montreal, where many remain, lamentably, unacquainted with it. Though sold raw in certain butcher shops, mici can be somewhat difficult to come by in the city’s restaurant scene. The pair explains that places that serve them, like St-Denis Street restaurant Mamaia, tend to be more formal, hosting family events like baptisms and weddings for Montreal’s Romanian community. That’s why they’re billing their venture, Mici D’ici, as the “first Romanian street food spot” in town.
If all goes to plan, the mici eatery will open on Mont-Royal Avenue by late next week, with a menu developed in collaboration with their meat supplier: the folks at Balkani butcher shop, which counts among its outposts a kiosk at Marché Jean-Talon.
On offer is the namesake mici (their cylindrical patties comprised of either the traditional trio of minced meats, one with just beef and lamb, or another with chicken only) served, uncharacteristically, in a buttery brioche bun with optional mustard, fried onions, and sauerkraut, which the duo describes as “essentially a sausage slider.” (Diners can also get the mici “naked,” i.e., bun-free, as is more customary.)
And since the restaurant is called Mici D’ici, the latter translating to “from here” in French, the restaurant joins Montreal’s solid mix of spots offering international spins on an emblematic Québécois dish: the poutine. Theirs tops the trifecta of fries, cheese, and gravy, with juicy chunks of the barbecued meat and a tangle of caramelized onions.
It seems the only way a diner won’t be able to get the mici is vegan — but that isn’t for lack of trying. The restaurant has tested its recipe with proteins from both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, but the co-owners say they couldn’t successfully approximate the taste. “That’s not to say that it’s never going to happen. We’d love to be able to offer a vegetarian option at some point, but we haven’t gotten the recipe right, so we’d rather just hold off on that for now,” Ponce says.
The menu also features chiftele, a Romanian deep-fried meatball made of ground pork, potatoes, onions, and dill, topped with a dollop of mustardy sour cream; a spirally pinwheel-esque sausage on a stick; a maple syrup sauerkraut salad; and french fries, optionally gussied up with crystals of truffle salt.
The first-time restaurant owners and longtime friends say they’d been itching to start a business together for some time, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the idea of a casual nook dedicated to mici sprung to mind. When it did, plans for the eatery were devised and swiftly set in motion. “It’s an instantly lovable dish,” Iosif says. “And now, here we are, just six months later, about to open our own restaurant.”
Mici D’ici is slated to open later this month at 19 Mont-Royal Avenue East.