So I had this perfect plan. Foolproof. I was going to go to one of those trendy restaurants downtown over the long weekend and I was going to get in because the whole city (well at least the trendy residents) flee for the long weekend. They go to places like The Hamptons and all those long-lined, downtown, no-rezzy restaurants are left open for the taking I picked Russ & Daughters Café because it’s been high on everyone’s list lately – apparently Jewish food is du jour, who woulda thunk it? Can you believe that even though we still arrived early by brunch standards (11:12 AM) and it was a holiday weekend, we still had to deal with an hour and a half wait?!
Thankfully, because we got there early we weren’t that hungry yet so we didn’t mind the wait. We walked around the LES and grabbed a mimosa and by the time we were ready to eat, the restaurant was ready for us. I may be Jewish, but I’m new to Jewish food since it was not really prevalent in the South. I am certainly new to the world of Appetizing, which, in this case, is a noun, not an adjective. Appetizing is the word for all those Jewish “noshes” you have at breakfast and brunch. It’s the lox, cream cheese, tuna, and all the fixins. Usually, you pick up the food from your local bagel place and lay it all out at home. At Russ & Daughters Café, however, they take the Appetizing that has made the old school Russ & Daughters shop famous for generations and serve it up in a diner atmosphere. It’s basically the store in diner form, with the same backlit signs lining the top of the walls to advertise their specialties that you would find in the shop. Make sure you look at the floors – that herringbone marble will make it into my home one day – mark my words!
When it comes to the food it’s similar to the store but in meal form. If you want the traditional bagel with lox and cream cheese, try one of their boards – they’re known to have some of the best smoked fish in all the land. They also have a pretty good rep for caviar so you can get some of that here, too. One difference between here and the shop is that you don’t have to worry about getting the individual pieces of the meal. If you want smoked salmon, they’ve already figured out what pairs best with the nova vs. the sable.
Another difference between the café and the shop is that there are cocktails here – yippee! I got one that kinda tasted like a bread and butter pickle, which seemed appropriate in a place that pickles everything. It wasn’t my absolute favorite, but I think that’s just because I’m not a big gin fan…so I’m not sure why I ordered a gin drink. Next time I’ll have to try one of their bloodies, which are infused with like carraway, dill, and fenugreek.
When it came to ordering food, I stuck to the nosh side of the menu because I wanted to try a bit of everything. We started with an order of sours because my beau just loves his pickles. Then we had to get serious with the Jew food. We got some kasha and bows with a poached egg on top. The kasha was great with large chunks of buckwheat, but don’t bother with the egg. I thought I would see it as a fun twist to a classic and though it certainly didn’t hurt the dish at all, I don’t think it added anything. Save your two bucks. After that we got a bissel of caviar because…how could I not?! I guess I was just feeling like a baller. Just as they’re known for their smoked fish, Russ & Daughters has quite the rep for caviar and I admit, it really elevates your bagel. Turns out Albert doesn’t really like caviar – I guess he’s just not the classy bitch that I am. That meant I got the whole thing to myself. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams for me! After that, we got the chopped liver, which was super tasty though not as good as my Mildred’s. But, honestly, nobody’s is as good as hers. That’s a fact. If I have to settle for anybody else’s, this is a pretty good way to go (2nd Avenue Deli’s is also BOMB). Chopped liver ain’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan, get it. It’s the Jewish paté. Like much of the food at the café, the menu features interpretations of their classics. For instance, instead of just getting chopped liver, it’s served with matzo and pickled red onion. Finally, we got the super heebster. At the Russ & Daughters shop, the super heebster is a massive bagel sandwich, but, like with the chopped liver, the café serves a restaurant-friendly version. Instead of a bagel, it’s bagel toast and there is a lighter spread of the horseradish cream cheese. The whitefish and smoked salmon salad is still there, along with the wasabi roe, but they also add some microgreens. It’s a cuter version than the one you’d find in the shop.
Russ & Daughters Café is a place for both the old and the new school alike. It celebrates the heritage of the Lower East Side while embracing modern cocktail culture. It’s the kind of place both my father and I can go crazy for – now we can enjoy it together, over a plate of Appetizing.