In the back, there's a sign: "For what you have been waiting, Russ & Daughters is enlarging its quarters for your sit-down convenience.” And by waiting, they mean: Since 1914, which is how long Russ & Daughters has been selling smoked fish, cream cheese, bagels, caviar, and so much more on the Lower East Side. And after so many generations, Russ & Daughters—without question, the greatest food shop in New York City—finally made a change. Most New York City institutions switching it up after 100 years of business usually aren't received well. But Russ & Daughters isn't most New York City institutions, let alone food purveyors.
In the new sit-down restaurant on Orchard Street, they've managed to adapt an already perfect thing into simply more perfection, from the big band piping over the speakers to the soda shop-style counters, heavy dishware, and especially that menu: Latkes. Bagles. Bialys. Smoked salmon, lox, and herring. Caviar. Egg creams. Shrubs. Sure, there are some creative flourishes on the menu, but at the end of the day, these are mostly ages-old dishes in a restaurant that's had a century of incredibly high standards to live up to before it even opened. And yet: Russ & Daughters cafe doesn't just live up to those impossibly high expectations, but succeeds them. It usually takes a long time for something to become a classic. With Russ & Daughters cafe, it just took that first nosh. —Foster Kamer