"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.