After 100 years of supplying the Lower East Side with the best smoked fish, caviar and other Jewish treats like babka, fourth generation owners of the original Russ & Daughters on Houston Street opened up the first-ever sit down restaurant a few blocks south called Russ & Daughters Cafe. Dishing out small dishes called Noshes on the menu, open-faced sandwiches, matzo ball soup, smoked fish platters, eggs, caviar, herring and sweets. The cafe is one of the cleanest places I’ve ever been. It’s a sterile as a dentist’s office and the staff is wearing white coats just like at the original which gives the place a sense of familiarity and comfort. Caviar cans hang from baskets while freshly baked bread hangs from the ceiling behind a counter where you can see the dishes coming out to be served. As you enter, there is a cute counter and high top tables that make it feel like an upscale diner while booths line the back of the restaurnat giving it a more personal experience. Classical tunes blare from the speakers.
Beware, getting a table at Russ & Daughters Cafe isn’t easy. This could possibly be the hardest table to get in Manhattan and I’m not even kidding. It took me three tries before I got the pleasure to actually eat here. Even at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon the wait is an hour and a half. My best advice is to go on a weekday or a Friday morning at 10 a.m. right when they open. Then, you can even get the whole place to yourself. They don’t take reservations but dinner might also be a good time to try and go as it’s not the most typical place for dinner but it is the same menu all day.
Start with the Pastrami Russ Nosh. It’s pastrami-cured salmon, muenster cheese, sauerkraut, mustard, pickle on a pretzel roll. Everything about this mini sandwich is incredible. The fluffy and saltiness of the bread pairs perfecting with the salmon and dressing. It’s enough for three to share and to get your feet wet. The Classic sandwich is a typical bagel with Gaspe Nova Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese, Tomato, Onion and Capers. Nothing unusual but everything comfortable here. Other sandwiches include the Mensch which is Sturgeon, Butter, Tomato, Onion and Caper on a Bagel and the Yum Kippered which is Kippered Salmon and Cream Cheese on a Bagel. The smoked fish platters serve 3-4 people, come with all the fixings and are tiered by fish from $70 – $ 90. This is a fish lovers dream.
I got the Eggs with Lox and Onions which is something I usually go for when it’s on the menu. However, this is pretty standard and you don’t get a real taste of the fish here since it’s little pieces and cooked in with the eggs. For this reason, I’d opt for one of the sandwiches or smoked fish platters since this is a place that is known for its fish and it’s a better way to taste the full flavor and get the most.
Challah Bread Pudding, Blintzes, Halvah Ice cream all populate the bottom portion of the “Sweet” menu. The Babka French Toast is simply irresistible, life changing and one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. What could be better than thick, chocolate babka with syrup and berries for breakfast? It’s not too sweet but just chocolatey enough for that sweet morning craving. Hey, like they say on the menu “A Meal without a Sweet Dish is Like a Story Without A Moral”- Yiddish Idiom. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Babka French Toast
Russ & Daughters Cafe is a fantastic addition to the family business and the neighborhood. Just be prepared to wait a while for a table unless you are first in line. Or perhaps you can try out Task Rabbit finally and have some kid go put your name on the list for you. They will text you when your table is ready anyway.
***Note: Closed on Tuesdays.