An Early Taste of LES Appetizing Restaurant Russ & Daughters Cafe
Photos by Laura Shunk
One hundred years after Russ & Daughters first began supplying the Lower East Side with its pickled herring and caviar, the store has opened a sit-down Russ & Daughters Cafe (127 Orchard Street) that channels the nostalgia of counter restaurants of yesteryear while moving New York's appetizing restaurants into the 21st century.
The long, narrow, white-washed space features a bar up front and booths in the back, and you'll walk by a case full of cured fish plus an open kitchen -- where you'll spot stored challah, bagels, and bialys -- as you move between the two. Walls are adorned with old black-and-white photos of the original Russ & Daughters cast of characters, as well as shelves bearing names of menu items that hold jars of goods like pickles, canned fish, and dried fruit.
Pro tip: If you want to miss the (weekend brunch) crowds, head here on a weekday morning, when you'll quickly find a table or a stool from which to drink plenty of black coffee while you watch the room fill up with industry folks starting their days.
When we dropped by, service was a bit slow, so prepare for a leisurely meal if you're going to hit this joint in the near future -- we expect that'll change as the staff gets the rhythm more dialed in. A seat next to the open kitchen lets you watch the line whip up eggs and platters; a chair at the bar gives you front-row access to egg cream prep.
The menu comprises about what you'd expect; look for knishes, latkes, plenty of cured fish, egg dishes, and, of course, caviar, which you might explore if you're cool with dropping a Benjamin at breakfast. You could start your meal with a bowl of matzo ball soup; you could end with noodle kugel or a blintz.
Us, we dipped into the classic platter, which matched silky smoked salmon to thin slices of rosy ripe tomato, onions, and capers plus a toasted bialy and cup of fluffy cream cheese. Consider adding a side of housemade sour pickles, a nice, tart complement to the cheese and fish.
And while we plan to return to eat more of the luncheonette's sizable menu, we'll likely start every meal with the chicken liver, a rich, chunky pate spread on matzo and meant to be topped with pickled onions. It's probably best to split it with your party, but we're fairly certain we could polish of the jar with a spoon, no problem.
Russ & Daughters Cafe is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily.
A partially demolished classic platter
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