Anyone who checks out my Instagram feed is bound to stumble upon a Russ & Daughters image or two, or three, or 50. There’s not much I can do to set myself apart from the steady stream of R&D acolytes who have paid numerous visits to the storefront at 179 East Houston Street in Manhattan over the past 100 years. Everyone has their favorite bagel sandwich, everyone has their favorite anecdote. For the record: It’s pastrami salmon with a thin spread of horseradish cream cheese on a toasted poppy-seed bagel, and my favorite R&D anecdote happens to serve as the lede of this article for Gothamist.
If R&D had remained nothing more than the
cramped cozy little shop on the Lower East Side that served up the best smoked salmon, caviar, and chocolate-covered graham crackers with a side of kibitz, we’d still be all right. We’d still step through that door, take a number, and wait patiently while marveling at row after row of pink, pristine fish and choice after choice of spreads (one taste of the whitefish and baked salmon can instantly cure a bad mood — try it, you’ll see). But lucky for us, fourth-generation owners Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper knew better, and now, in the same place where the memories of overcrowded tenements have been overshadowed by high-rise luxury co-ops, we can have our babka French toast and eat it too — while sitting down!
This is just a long and flowery way of saying that I visited the brand-new Russ & Daughters Cafe for one hell of a Friday-night dinner yesterday. You can read the Yelp reviews, or you can read this New York Times article on that prominently features the LES restaurant, or you can Google the scores of blogs that have also written about the perfect pairing of old-world recipes and the adventurousness of 21st-century foodies. It’s all been said already. My two cents? It’s very easy for me to take New York for granted: I grew up in the suburbs; my family has always lived here; it’s a part of my fiber. Very rarely do I go somewhere in this city and say to myself, “Thank G-d I live just a subway ride away.” Well, that was my reaction upon finishing my meal at the Russ & Daughters Cafe. With my penchant for travel and desire to eat my way through entire states (See: Tennessee. June 14-19, 2014), it’s usually restaurants in faraway cities that stick out as precious gifts the locals should hold close to their vests. Not this time. To steal a term from Grub Street, all self-respecting New Yorkers should dine at the Russ & Daughters Cafe sooner rather than later. This place is a point of pride for our city. Historically and gastronomically.