"You got time for such a long lunch, kid? Don't you have a job?"
Mark Russ Federman swivels beside me at the counter, pours himself some hot tea and grins. His grandfather founded New York's most glorious appetizing store, Russ & Daughters — a wonderland of fish and caviar — 100 years ago on the Lower East Side.
His daughter, Niki Russ Federman, and nephew, Josh Russ Tupper, now run the place, and the duo recently opened a marvelous new outpost on Orchard Street. Between the dining room and counter, a new slicer, trained by rock-star lox slicer Herman Vargas, is carving gorgeous filets of smoked and cured salmon. On the walls, there are replicas of the hand-stenciled lightbox signs that went up circa 1950 at the original shop.
Many of the dishes at the sit-down café are lovely: a ramekin of creamy chopped liver with pickled onions and a stack of crisp matzo that's been roasted with butter and salt ($9). A warm, peeled potato with salty (but not too salty!) schmaltz herring and a shot of extremely cold Icelandic vodka ($12).
The cheese blintzes with a dollop of blueberry compote and sour cream ($8) are good, too. Soft but not soggy. Plump but not overstuffed. You could have a very long lunch here, indeed.
There are a few tourists today, drawn to the neon on the Allen Street façade, but mostly it's New Yorkers in the house. Old timers eating their scrambled eggs with lox ($15) and scruffy LES kids who understand the healing powers of smoked sturgeon with toasted bialy ($22).
"Whoa. Did you go home last night?" The woman behind the bar asks the girl who just sat down.
The girl shakes her head. Then she orders potato latkes with salmon roe and crème fraîche ($14). Things are looking up!