The rich traditions and delicious food of the Jewish community in New York are things that I haven’t gotten a chance to explore properly so far in this blog. A trip to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, once one of the most bustling neighbourhoods in America, would remedy this quite easily!
Russ and Daughters might just be the most iconic and revered of New York’s food institutions. This Jewish deli has been a staple on the Lower East Side for almost a century (99 years to be exact) and it’s showing no signs of slowing down!
They are famous for their customized breakfast bagels, but people don’t come here for the bagels themselves. They come for the delicious flavoured cream cheeses and smoked fish that together with a bagel makes for the perfect breakfast sandwich!
Russ and Daughters is the last Jewish appetizing store of its kind left in a neighbourhood that used to be the hub of American Jewish life. Appetizing derives from the appetizers that Eastern European Jews ate before meals, often involving fishes like herring, that transformed in America into the ingredients eaten with bagels!
Although Russ and Daughters now offers some meat products (chopped liver salad for example), appetizing stores typically only offer fish and dairy products with delicatessens left to serve meat, as Jewish law prohibited meat and fish from being sold on the same site.
The variety here is stunning! So many different products available and no way to sample every single thing without many visits!
Russ and Daughters is also well-known as a caviar purveyor, with many imported and local varieties available in store as well as in their online store.
I had my eye on the smoked fish and cream cheese spreads which is what they are most famous for. It’s easy to put together a quick breakfast sandwich, but most of the locals were buying big slabs of beautifully smoked fish and tubs of luscious cream cheese for later use.
There’s a big focus on smoked salmon with a selection from across the world found here, complete with descriptions of the nuances of each particular type.
Putting together a breakfast bagel sandwich will cost you anywhere between $10 – $15, but once you have a bite it’s pretty obvious that the expense is well worth it! Take my word that the quality of the products and the service you get makes the whole experience worthwhile.
I’m not usually one to comment (or care) about service but the approach here was top-notch: the staff will go through every single action needed to make your bagel sandwich perfect, no matter how painstaking or drawn out that process may be (including removing every last minute bone from the fish!). It’s not fast, but it’s a refreshing change to get treated so nicely!
Their service definitely explains the long wait times even with lots of staff on hand so don’t expect to be out of this shop quickly even if there’s no line out the door!
Russ and Daughters is a must for any foodie in New York! It’s a little pricey for a routine breakfast snack, but for the unequaled ambiance of a old-time Jewish appetizing store stocking products of the highest order makes this a truly memorable destination.
Things Roger Ate like a Pig
Poppy Bagel, Smoked Sablefish, Scallion Cream Cheese – 5/6 (Excellent), $14.25 (by weight)
- Smoked Sablefish: 5/6 (Excellent)
- Scallion Cream Cheese: 6/6 (Must Try!)
- Poppy Bagel: 3/6 (Good)
You can’t really go wrong here but I’d like to think that I did pretty well for myself with this combination!
The poppy bagel was decent enough, with a good coating of poppy seeds and a nice hefty size characterized by the NY bagel-making style of pushing the bagel hole using the fingers. It was substantial enough to hold everything but not take away from the taste, although by itself it wasn’t so exciting.
Sablefish is one of my favourite fishes so I was delighted to see it available smoked! The flavour was so delicate that it felt like any hint of spice or other flavours was too much, but by itself it was elegant, understated and blissful all in one package. The characteristic oiliness of the fish meat was toned down a bit by the smoking process but the nuances of smoke left behind were subtle enough to round out the fish in a way I never thought possible.
Each flake of fish meat was perfectly distributed with not a single bone in sight. The sable was coated with a consistent layer of paprika which is said to keep in the flavour as well as add another layer of spiced smokiness that was again delicate yet noticeable.
The scallion cream cheese was dreamy! With each bite came a mouthful of gorgeous creaminess with a smooth texture and never any overbearing notion of fat. The fragrance of scallions ran rampant with big chunks of onion throughout that was the perfect foil for the light and slightly acidic cream cheese.
Personally my choice of scallion cream cheese was a little stronger than I would’ve liked for the smoked sablefish, but when each individual component is so delicious you can honestly just take your pick of fish and cream cheese with no way of going wrong.
Russ and Daughters is a must-visit to enjoy the joys of the last remaining Jewish appetizing store in New York. A bagel sandwich here might just be the priciest breakfast you ever have, but the smoked fish and homemade cream cheeses are simply divine!
Date visited: Apr. 7, 2013
Price range: $10 – $20