After being out of town for three consecutive weekends and practically living out of a suitcase for a month, I was beyond excited to have a fun and productive weekend catching up on my to-do’s and my friends in the city. I popped out of bed, went for a run, and then took advantage of my early rising to brunch somewhere that typically has a long wait during peak afternoon hours.
Russ & Daughters Cafe has been on my hit list for awhile, but I’ve been deterred by the large crowds post-noon. The newly opened cafe spurns from the iconic Russ & Daughters Yiddish deli that is known for its smoked fish and caviar. In fact, Russ & Daughters Cafe opened exactly 100 years after the deli first opened its doors on Houston; it is still in the same location and owned by the same family.
Andrew and I had a grand scheme of arriving right when the doors opened at 10 a.m. to avoid the inevitable line at this hot spot. In reality, we showed up to its bright blue facade near the corner of Orchard and Rivington around 11:15 a.m. and were faced with a 30 minute wait. Not too shabby given the cafe’s popularity, but I was impressed by the growing gathering of eager brunch-goers already at this relatively early hour. I can’t image what the wait would be like later in the day.
The ambiance perfectly encapsulated the old New York feel of the delicatessen. We felt like we were transported back to a 1950’s diner ran by someone’s Jewish grandmother. Classic black and white signs showcased specialty goods such as pickled vegetables and caviar over an old-fashioned soda fountain bar. White-coated servers yielded impressive trays piled high with bagels, platters of smoked salmon and pickled herring, and steaming eggs, all to the soft tunes of Yiddish music.
We were seated in a high top table right near a station of quick-working fishmongers. It was fascinating to watch them butcher and thinly slice the fish and vegetables, which immediately were plated and served.
Since Andrew and I both had an upcoming afternoon of work on our laptops (#EntrepreneurProblems), we opted out of any breakfast cocktails. Always with a bit of a sweet tooth, Andrew quickly put in an order of a chocolate malt egg cream from the soda fountain. We had never had an egg cream before and were surprised that it contained neither egg nor cream. Rather, the drink comprised malt, milk, and seltzer, resulting in a slightly fizzy chocolate milkshake. Although the carbonation took a bit of getting used to, we enjoyed the drink and liked how the decadent chocolate-flavor wasn’t too overwhelming or filling.
The extensive menu at Russ & Daughters was categorically organized, which is convenient for diners. We had our pick between starters, fish platters, open sandwich boards, egg dishes, sweets, soups, and more. The menu is a balanced blend between traditional Yiddish classics such as knish, kugal, latkes, and matzo ball soup, and American breakfast mainstays such as eggs Benny and French toast, albeit with babka.
After some online research and our friendly server’s recommendations, we settled on the Hot Smoke/Cold Smoke and Pastrami Russ to start. Unanimously, the Hot Smoke/Cold Smoke was our favorite dish of the meal. The cool “fish salad” contained a blend of baked salmon and Scottish smoked salmon spread and was served with crispy waffle-cut chips. The fish was clearly fresh and perfectly seasoned. This may sound like an odd brunch pick, but don’t leave Russ & Daughters without trying this small plate.
The Pastrami Russ was also a delight. Pastrami-cured salmon, Muenster cheese, sauerkraut, mustard, and a pickle were served atop a soft pretzel bun. The salmon really blew my mind, because it tasted like I was eating actually pastrami rather than fish. The dish was the perfect size for sharing and allowed us to save room for our main courses. I found it a little on the salty side, but we still polished off the entire mini sandwich in a matter of minutes.
After such an amazing start, we were slightly disappointed by our main dishes, which seemed a little plain in comparison. The Lower Sunny Side was a plate of eggs sunny side up, nova smoked salmon, and two potato latkes. The eggs were standard, the fish was fresh, but the latkes were spectacular. We also ordered a side of spiced applesauce and cream cheese to accompany the latkes. This dish was well-prepared, although pretty simple.
We also split the Sturgeon, eggs, and onions with pumpernickel bread. At first, the soft-scrambled eggs tasted quite plain until I finally found a bite with Sturgeon fish. The fish added some much needed flavor and protein to the dish. Andrew enjoyed creating a breakfast sammy with the egg scramble and housemade pumpernickel bread while I enjoyed my carbs topped with our leftover cream cheese.
Despite the numerous dishes that we added to our tab, we left the diner satisfied but not stuffed. The fresh fish fueled me and Andrew up for an afternoon of Bitch Biz and GMAT studying, respectively, without requiring a post-brunch nap.
The Bitches say: B+. Russ & Daughters Cafe is a family-oriented, neighborhood restaurant featuring Yiddish classics that stay true to the original New York delicatessen. This is a perfect spot to take out of towners or homesick friends missing their Bubbe’s homemade meals.
Russ & Daughters Cafe
127 Orchard St.
New York, NY
(Lower East Side)
Russ & Daughters Cafe serves brunch on Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. (eggs served all day!) Note: Russ & Daughters Cafe is closed on Tuesdays.