For fans of smoked fish and bagels, there is really only one place to go in New York City: Russ & Daughters. Open since 1914, Russ & Daughters is a New York institution, and one of the last remaining "appetizing" shops in the city. "Appetizing" here isn't an adjective describing something tasty, but a noun that basically refers to food you would eat with a bagel. Anything from white fish salad and smoked lox to cream cheese could be considered "appetizing," and while appetizing stores used to be a dime a dozen in New York City, only a handful remain today. Russ & Daughters, which is celebrating its centennial this year, is a true stalwart that has stood the test of time.
As Anthony Bourdain puts it: "Russ & Daughters occupies that rare and tiny place on the mountaintop reserved for those who are not just the oldest and the last -- but also the best."
"The Sturgeon Queens" is a new documentary that chronicles everything from the Russ family history to Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman, the founder's great grandchildren, who run the story today. The film is currently being shown at film festivals across the country and will be playing on various PBS stations later this year. DVDs will also be available on Amazon and through the film's website. Journalist Julie Cohen wrote, directed and produced the film, and six longtime Russ & Daughters customers (all in their 70s, 80s and 90s) narrate it. They read the script "seder style" -- sitting around a large table, "eating and kibitzing." As the trailer says, "100 years, four generations and 1,800,000 pounds of pickled herring" later, Russ & Daughters is still going strong.
Russ & Daughters has found the right balance of sticking to tradition but also updating itself to stay relevant in the ever evolving New York food scene. Last year Mark Russ Federman, grandson of Russ & Daughters' founder, Joe Russ, published a book called "Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built." Later this spring the store will open a sit-down cafe on Orchard Street. In a city where few restaurants last even one year, Russ & Daughters' success is a testament to the quality of its product and soul of its business.
Watch the incredibly charming trailer for "The Sturgeon Queens" here and check out the website for viewings.