Had you been walking down Orchard Street in 1914, eavesdropping on the latest Lusitania gossip and adjusting your monocle just so, you would have likely passed a man selling slices of cured herring and salmon atop a barrel. That man was Joel Russ, the founder of Russ & Daughters, and yesterday his progeny made him proud by opening the doors of Russ & Daughters Cafe on the very same street; a full-service restaurant and bar offering a menu rich with classic ingredients that have been standbys at the Houston Street location for decades.
The idea to open a larger cafe complete with tableside service had been percolating for over five years, said Niki Russ Federman, Joel's great-granddaughter who now co-owns Russ & Daughters with her cousin Josh Russ Tupper. "We wanted to grow at the right time and in the right place," Russ Federman told us. After careful internal planning—and burgeoning support from regular customers—Russ & Daughters acquired the space at 127 Orchard Street last year and carried out a complete rebuild that echoed the spirit of the original shop.
The restaurant is a long and not-too-narrow room with off-white walls and marble slab tabletops. Windows in both the front and very back of the restaurant bring in ample sunlight and the shelves of caviar tins and olive jars—familiar sights that have made a decorative trip from the original location to the cafe—gleam brightly. The atmosphere lands somewhere between a classic diner and a futuristic pharmacy, where the cure for what ails you is lots and lots of delicious fish.
The Super Heebster ($12), a whitefish and salmon salad spread atop crispy bagel toast with horseradish dill cream cheese and topped with wasabi-infused roe is a delicious take on the sort of layered fish-and-spreads sandwiches that Russ & Daughters regulars have been enjoying since Woodrow Wilson was in the White House. Even better is the Schmaltz & a Shot (also $12). This schmaltz is a fatty herring cured in oil and served in slices alongside raw onion, boiled potato, and a shot of Reyka vodka. It's an amazing invitation to hedonism, doled out on a wooden slab and made saintly by the starchy quarter of potato. We tried ours for lunch and felt like Norse gods all afternoon.
Caviar options also abound and are varied both in origin, serving size, and (gulp) price point. 50 grams of Paddlefish eggs will set you back $105, but why not go H.A.M. and order a half kilo of Osetra Gueldenstaedtii for $1,970? The selection and prices are really no different from what has been available at the original Houston location all along, and it's nice to see that the new cafe is offering diners the genuine Russ & Daughters article and not trying to stray too far from their origins.
The new cafe's drink list features homemade sodas, old-style egg creams and shrubs, along with a selection of beers, wine, and cocktails. Our lemon lime soda came infused with cardamon, anise, and dill; we're already dreaming of the next one. Russ Federman also mentioned how excited she was to have a buxar and molasses egg cream on the list. "Buxar is sort of a Jewish chewing tobacco, and I would see old men at the store chew on it for hours when I was little," she said. "We absolutely wanted to have it on the menu."
127 Orchard Street // Open 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. // Closed Tuesdays