There are certain places in New York that, 10 years on, still have the power to turn me into a giddy , I-heart-NYC proselytizer. There is Central Park on a sunny spring day, the Strand bookstore with its tall shelves of aging books, and a certain 100 year-old appetizing store on the Lower East Side. What started as a pushcart at the turn of the century has grown into one of the most iconic and longest surviving institutions in the city, all while keeping it in the family.
Stepping into Russ & Daughters means more than just a shopping excursion or a lesson in the Jewish history of NYC; it’s a sensory experience. It hits you right as you open the door: the wafting scent of smoked fish. It is incredible–one of my favorite smells in the world. The impressive smoked fish selection is supplanted with an equally impressive case of sweets and dried fruits. Russ & Daughters is the rare establishment that’s been able to maintain relevancy in the new millenium while holding on to its old-world sensibility. They care about the customer and about keeping the tradition of classic Jewish appetizing alive. And, well, have you tried the herring?
My Top Five Russ & Daughters items:
Holland catch herring: Around mid-to-late June, Russ & Daughters imports the year’s best catch directly from Holland. This creamy herring comes with its tail still attached. I love it as a sandwich, served on a brioche hot dug bun with chopped onions and pickles.
Beet, apple and herring salad: This is a staple in my and my husband’s home. A surprisingly light and refreshing salad, with a hint of saltiness, thanks to the herring.
Sable: We rarely get this because it’s pricey, but when we do, it’s such a treat. Melty, mild and delicious, it’s a worthy accompaniment to smoked salmon on a bagel sandwich. (Yep, it’s all happening).
Scottish smoked salmon: So buttery and smoky. Ask for it sliced super thin (“thin enough to read a newspaper through” as advised by assistant manager Chhapte Sherpa, also known as the Lox Sherpa), so you can layer the smoked salmon on top of a bagel and schmear (with onions and capers, obvs).
Babka (small): Yes, this is the same Green’s babka that’s sold around the city. Russ & Daughters is one of the only places, though, that allows you to get a small hunk–the perfect size to split among 2-3 people post-lox and herring gorging.