Russ and Daughters is a New York institution for smoked fish, much like how Katz’s is synonymous with pastrami sandwiches and Grimaldi’s is known for pizza. It’s pretty impressive how a place like this has held up so well over the years. There’s so much bagel and lox competition now with fancy hipster places like Sadelle’s and Black Seed sprouting up right and left. But there’s something about nostalgia and an authentic backstory that keep people coming back to Russ and Daughters, leaving the newcomers’ stars to fade when their 15 minutes are up.
Russ and Daughters opened a restaurant on Orchard St about two years ago, and the lines are still out the door. Everyone is pretty committed to waiting out the hour and a half for a table, both young hipsters in beanies discovering Russ for the first time and the more experienced clientele who have grown up with the brand ages ago. Once you’re in, you get that old school NYC experience that you’ve been waiting patiently for. It looks like a scene of an Edward Hopper painting come to life, in which smartly dressed staff members in white lab technician jackets move across shelves of specialty food products in classic Pop Art packaging. And because Russ and Daughters actually has been around for that long, you do feel like you’re getting the real deal, not tickets to a knockoff.
Of course you have to get some sort of bagel and lox or smoked fish spread, and a bowl of hearty matzo ball soup. The presentation is pretty clean and classic, staying true to how people would have consumed these heritage food products back then. There are some new fangled creations for people who want modern day brunch options, like the Lower Sunny Side, a plate of fried eggs, latke and smoked salmon, but nothing ever veers too much from the original. Any variations are Russ and Daughters 2.0, not 6.0.
Somehow I wasn’t bothered by the hour and a half wait. I’ve attempted this twice before and bailed, but one day I just accepted that the wait comes with the territory and patiently read through a copy of the NY Times. Like a grandmother who is late because she doesn’t know how to use Google Maps, Russ and Daughters might try your patience but all is forgiven when the two of you reunite.