One of the things I enjoyed doing in New York, when exploring new restaurants, was finding spots with a bit of history… a background… a story. We found it in punches at Russ & Daughters.
According to all the articles I can find about it, the store opened in 1914. Created by a Polish immigrant Joe Russ, the store incorporated “& Daughters” once his three daughters became partners in the store. I absolutely loved that in an age when you’d typically have sons partner in the business, Russ didn’t think twice, and his daughters were involved.
And after passing through the generations, the fourth generation of the family runs the business: Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman. While Tupper and Federman (cousins) opened a new cafe in 2014 on Orchard Street, not far away from the original, my friends and I headed straight for 179, East Houston Street.
The store is small, yet there’s a line. You go in, take a number, and wait your turn. While you wait, you browse the menu. And we’re here for what the store us well-known for: lox and bagel. The “Classic” on the menu is bagel with cream cheese and a choice of smoked salmon – ranging from Norwegian smoked salmon to belly lox to loin-cut smoked salmon and more.
You can even choose your bagel (plain, sesame, onion, whole wheat, pumpernickel, and much, much more) as well as cream cheese options (think scallion, horseradish-dill, caviar cream cheese, goat cream cheese, among others). The classic options range between $10-14 without paying extra for things like the lox cream cheese ($1) or the goat cream cheese ($1.50) for example. There are, obviously, other items on the store menu, sandwiches and other kinds of bagels, but our eye was on the classic prize.
The store isn’t huge, as I’ve said before, but everyone lines up patiently. By the time we leave, people are standing outside, queueing up. The history lines the shelves inside. I read articles about the family, about the founding, about the current generation, and look at the tote bags with desire – but no, I will not sate my insane obsession with tote bags! I look at the other shelves, where you can buy an assortment of things – from fish to olives, caviar to desserts like macarons, cream cheese, smoked eel…and more.
Once your number arrives, you give your order, and wait. And watch the magic happen.
And then…a well-wrapped packet is handed over. When we got our precious breakfast (we got there quite early – this was our brekkie!), we headed out to finally sink our teeth into the hefty packet.
It’s easy to see why this place is popular. It was a cold morning, and I sat outside on a bench munching my salmon and cream cheese bagel – and I was happy. One of the things that impressed me was how fresh it all tasted, and believe me, the idea of being associated with something with so much history behind it, made the taste even better. The bagel was firm and chewy, the salmon and cream cheese melding perfectly together – it was really a perfect breakfast for that crisp morning.
Would I go back? Unequivocally yes. Next time, I’d be curious to try out the new cafe, which, according to the website, has a seating area (yes, this one has none) and offers table bookings and brunch.