Russ & Daughters (NYC) | Ann Mah

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Russ & Daughters (New York)

By Ann | March 12, 2013


Living overseas (and by overseas I mean anywhere outside of New York City) there’s one thing I miss the most. A bagel. With cream cheese. And lox. But not just any bagel — I want one with heft, with chew, with a crust that almost crackles between my teeth. I want the schmear to be plain, creamy and a little tangy, unless I’m foregoing the salmon in which case I’ll take vegetable or scallion. And speaking of salmon, I want it lightly smoked, not too salty, and hand cut into slices so thin they’re transparent.

Alas, even in Bagel Mecca you can find bad specimens — I’ve eaten my share. So imagine my excitement when, on the brink of a week-long visit to NYC, I read a review of a new book, Russ & Daughters, by Mark Russ Federman, which waxed poetic about this family-owned shop on the Lower East Side, the delectable nosh that you can purchase there, the friendly schmooze practiced by the countermen. Reading it, I could practically taste the schmear.

I used to live in Alphabet City, so of course I’d walked by the shop many times though I’d never been inside. (I blame my meager editorial assistant budget at the time.) But now I came armed with plenty of cash and a new vocabulary word gleaned from the store’s website: appetizing. When used as a noun, the word refers to the food you eat with bagels — the cold cured and/or smoked salmon, the filets of pickled herring, the spread of whitefish salad, the cream cheese. You know, a snack. Or, as my husband’s grandmother used to call it, a nosh. “You wanna nosh? Let’s have a nosh.”


vitrine pickled lox


My nosh that first morning was a sesame bagel, plain cream cheese, and three slices of silky Scottish salmon that melted on my tongue into a wisp of smoke. The counterman cut them right in front of me, sliding his knife across the filet so effortlessly I gaped when I saw their delicate translucency. The bagel had a chewy heft, the cream cheese was spread on both sides, not too thickly. The salmon had not even a hint of fishiness. It was a meal so perfect, I nearly wept when it was over.

Instead of weeping, I went back the next day, dragging my husband through a freak snowstorm, down thirteen blocks to Houston Street. That morning my bagel was pumpernickel, the cream cheese vegetable. He got sesame, plain schmear, and slices of nova lox reminiscent of butter. Visit #3 (oh, yes, there was a third visit) involved poppy seeds and scallion cream cheese (me), pumpernickel, plain and more nova (him). That morning, as we waited amongst a crowd of appetizing aficionados, I eavesdropped on the chatter all around me. I’m not sure if it was the counterman’s schmooze, but most people ordered with abandon, loading up on bagels, cream cheese, salmon and orange juice as if for an end-of-the-world Saturday morning nosh party, spending up to $100 or more. Russ & Daughters ain’t cheap but New Yorkers know the good stuff when they see it.

wrapped scottish lox

aerial view

There used to be more than 20 or 30 appetizing shops on the Lower East Side, but now there’s just this one, open since 1914, a little living piece of New York history that still gleams shiny, fresh and bright. For those who live overseas (that is, outside NYC), Russ & Daughters offers mail order nationwide (continental US only) and their wares are equally delicious when shipped. If you don’t trust me, perhaps you’ll believe my in-laws — when we sent them some Russ & Daughters smoked salmon for the holidays, they told me it was the best they’d ever tasted.

Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston Street (at 1st Avenue)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 475 4880

Topics: Dining Out and About, Voyages | 19 Comments »

19 Responses to “Russ & Daughters (New York)”

  1. Camille Says:
    March 12th, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Oh, this looks wonderful. I’ve read about Russ and Daughters before, but now the next time I’m in New York I’ll make sure to visit!

  2. Tammy Says:
    March 12th, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    So funny that you post this today when just yesterday, I saw THE Russ on one of our local morning shows! They certainly have a long history of family ownership and pride in their business. I’m glad you shared your personal experience.

  3. Voie de Vie Says:
    March 12th, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    There is nothing like a NYC bagel with a schmear. I can’t say I ever cozied up to the lox, but I’d definitely try the Scottish version – rich and smoky sounds perfect.

    Thanks for the great photos – yummm!

  4. kristen @thekaleproject Says:
    March 12th, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    Mouth is watering right now. I won’t be back in NYC until May and I always make sure to get a good bagel sandwich while I’m there!

  5. lydia Says:
    March 12th, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    i’ll be in NYC in June, and will put this on my list of places to go. would love a recommendation for a chinese noodle place.

  6. katy Says:
    March 12th, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Oh, Ann, you’re making me hungry! I love Russ & Daughters; I’ve been there quite a few times for a good bagel and lox. It’s also usually the place where I go to buy food for my return flight (I have a hard time letting go of New York).

    And I feel your bagel pain; I don’t even both trying to find them anymore here in California, although I’ve heard that there is a bagel renaissance happening in Oakland. Perhaps I’ll give it a chance one of these days! I might even be pleasantly surprised.

  7. CK Says:
    March 12th, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    Russ and Daughters is simply the best. Once upon a time I was a Tal freak. But there is so much more finesse with the salmon at R and Ds, and the bagels are not as ginormous (though still totally satisfying). Whitefish salad is also great spread on crackers during cocktail hour, just FYI …

  8. Amy Kim (@kimchi_mom) Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Oh my gawd. That is bagel/cream cheese/lox is THE trifecta of goodness.

    For me it was always the everything bagel. And my weekday breakfast was always a “cc and tommy” (cream cheese and a slice of tomato) and a large $1 deli coffee. There was no ‘fancy’ coffee houses back then, but those coffees were perfect.

    Ah, those were the days. When were you living in NYC? I was there from ’95-’03.

  9. Lindsey Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 9:23 am

    This just went to the top of my food list for NYC! Bagel and lox were a fixture of my childhood but I’ve never had the true, New York appetizing variety! I’m so easily tempted by the variety of cream cheese flavors (sun-dried tomato! cinnamon!) that I rarely go for anything classic. But you’ve turned my head, Ann! And make me significantly ravenous. Would love to go on a bagel hop with you!

  10. Heather in Arles Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Ann, you are killing me here, you know that right? ;) One of the things that ANY ex-NYer misses is bagels but LOX? I don’t even dream of it and R&D is just the best.

    Was that the Sam Sifton article that you were referring to? I loved that piece.

  11. Ann Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Camille — You’ll love it! The counter guy even gave me a salmon sample so I could make an informed decision.

    Tammy — How cool! I can’t wait to read his book.

    Voie de Vie — The Scottish variety was just smoky enough and not too salty. I bet it would be good as an hors d’oeuvres, too.

    Kristen — May is just around the corner for your bagel fix. What kind do you get?

    Lydia — I hope you enjoy it! I don’t know of a noodle place, but I quite enjoyed Jing Fong for dimsum on Sunday.

  12. Ann Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Katy — Ooh, an airplane picnic of R&D sounds divine — what a good idea. I always try to stay away from out-of-NYC bagels because they disappoint me so much. But the longer I’m away from New York, the more they creep into my diet. Regretfully, of course. They’re usually terrible. I’m curious about this Oakland movement, though!

    Amy Kim — Oh, yum, cream cheese and tomato — and quel luxe! I lived in NYC around the same time as you. Too bad our paths didn’t cross!

    Lindsey — Wow, cinnamon cream cheese — wild! Yes, if you love bagels, R&D is a must stop for your next New York jaunt.

    Heather — I know, I know! If I could send you one, I would. I haven’t read the Sam Sifton piece (off to find it) but the book review by Dwight Garner is VERY enticing.

  13. Alison | a girl defloured Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 5:02 am

    I do so understand how you feel when you say you miss a bagel. I doubt I’ll ever be able to have one again, however, the salmon I *can* have…and it sounds positively lovely…even sans bagel. ;)

  14. Emma Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    I’ve been a bit obsessed with smoked salmon lately so you could say this post is timely.

    Bagels aren’t that common in Australia but I’ve found a good brand that taste great toasted. Would love to try some NYC bagels though, I think when we travel there that’ll be the first thing I do!

  15. Jeanne Says:
    March 15th, 2013 at 3:10 am

    I grew up in upstate NY and for a special Sunday morning treat my Dad would get lox and onion or poppy seed bagels. I always liked mine better without cream cheese. I think you can appreciate the flavor and texture of the lox more without the competition of cream cheese. That is something I do miss in CA.

  16. Ann Says:
    March 15th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Alison — Oh, I feel for you! But this salmon is delicious in any setting, including one of my favorites: on potato latkes. Yum!

    Emma — Yes! A good old NYC bagel is one of the best reasons to visit New York.

    Jeanne — I’ll have to try it one day sans cream cheese… though I must admit it sounds rather abstemious upon initial consideration. But I like the idea of highlighting the lox. Btw, Russ & Daughters’ onion bialy also looked absolutely heavenly!

  17. Sweet Freak Says:
    March 18th, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Ann, I’ve been a million times for the dried fruit. Believe it or not, I’ve yet to have bagel and lox from there. You’ve inspired me. It’s imminent. I’m excited. :)

  18. gillian Says:
    March 22nd, 2013 at 11:03 am

    I love that anywhere outside of New York is overseas. Now I have a terrible bagel craving. That will have to wait until August.

  19. Matthew Says:
    March 31st, 2013 at 2:56 am

    If you don’t trust me, perhaps you’ll believe my in-laws — when we sent them some Russ & Daughters smoked salmon for the holidays, they told me it was the best they’d ever tasted.

    The match is on: the best I’ve ever had is from the brother of a local staff member at the Embassy in Dublin who smokes it on Achill Island of the west coast of Ireland.

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