My love of Russ and Daughters is well documented, so when I heard that the 100-year-old appetizing store had opened a café, I sprinted for a table. I was greeted by a long and narrow space, herringbone tile floors, a counter in the front, tables and booths in the back. The decor reminded me a malt shop from another era sharpened up with a contemporary edge, a little bit Art Deco, a little bit post Modern.
At a table in the back, a friend and I settled down to business right away, gazing at the placemat that doubles as a menu. While I hemmed and hawed over smoked salmon paired with eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, or potato latkes, in the end I went with a sandwich called the Shtetl: smoked sable, plain bagel, goat cream cheese. My friend, Shana, had the chopped salad: rows of smoked whitefish, beets, avocado, apple, hard-boiled egg, and bits of broken matzo arranged on a bed of lettuce.
The sable was velvety rich with a tang of woodsmoke, offset by the mustard bite of pickled capers. I liked the goat cream cheese, but to be perfectly honest, it didn’t taste that different from a regular schmear. Shana reported that her salad was delicious (and I do love Russ & Daughter’s whitefish), but it was small, and afterwards she was “still a little noshy.”
We filled in the cracks with an egg cream each—chocolate for her, malt for me—mine was a drink of milk, seltzer, and malt syrup (?) that managed to be at once fizzy, frothy, sweet, and rich (is malt umami?!). And as a final treat, we ordered up a pair of blintzes, browned in butter, stuffed with sweetened farmer’s cheese that breathed a gentle note of cinnamon.
I will admit, the bill was not cheap—$60 for two of us, quite a bit heftier than what one might expect from your corner diner/deli/malt shop. (It broke down like this: $18 for my sandwich, $14 for the salad, $7 per egg cream, $14 for the blintzes—needless to say, this is a place for a special lunch treat.) The prices, however, weren’t any more expensive than any other trendy New York lunch spot. And the quality, ah, the quality was sublime. Can you really put a price on that?
Russ and Daughters Café
127 Orchard Street
New York City
212 475 4881