Although I'm an Italian-American who is Christian, every December I exchange Happy Hanukkah's knowing full well that I'm going home to a menorah-less apartment. I crave Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda; a knish, always square, most certainly needs to be accompanied by spicy mustard. I look forward to Purim just for the Hamantashen.
No, I'm not converting to Judaism just for the food. And of course, there is more to being Jewish than that. But culinarily speaking, I'm indebted to what their culture has brought to New York's food scene. After a year of living a stone's throw away, I finally made my pilgrimage to Russ & Daughters. Getting to the counter at Russ & Daughters (during prime time hours) is not for the weary. There are long lines spilling into the streets with locals, tourists, strollers and everyone in between. The common bond among us all? We love a good Jewish breakfast. Russ & Daughters has arguably the best in the city, with smoked whitefish, herring, and smoked salmon ranging in flavors from a classic dill to pastrami-cured. This is my Lower East Side Promised Land.
Photos courtesy of russanddaughters.com
It's not just the food. Though, did I mention the bagels and fluffy goat cheese? The quality of service here is elevated to an art form. The most adorable elderly men stand behind the counter, wearing ties and white apothecary-style coats. They sing. They make jokes. They yell "challlaahhh" as though they are hip Jewish rap stars. They wear ties. Nary a bored, angst-ridden teen in sight. These men love what they do and they take it seriously, as they carefully spread the cream cheese on my bialy.
I shamelessly tucked into my breakfast on the corner of Allen and Houston. As the salty capers met the ripe tomato which highlighted the most perfect lox I've had, I had the chutzpah to think that right then, in that moment, I was one of them.
Tonight I'm making latkes.