Friday, March 13, 2009

Delicious Lower East Side Landmark

Tastes have changed over the years, but Russ & Daughters' Niki Russ Federman and Joshua Russ Tupper, both fourth-generation owners of this Houston Street appetizing shop, stock some of the same things Polish immigrant Joel Russ sold in 1907, when the store was a pushcart on the corner of Orchard Street. Customers still line up for pickled lox, strings of Polish mushrooms (they now go for $200 a lb), and belly lox - salt-cured salmon that Russ & Daughters staff are quick to point out is the only cured fish that can properly be called lox (if it's smoked, it's not lox).

Mr. Russ opened the brick-and-mortar store seven years after he emigrated from southern Poland. In 1933 he added "& Daughters" to the shop's name and began to turn over the business to his three children. Niki's father worked as a lawyer before becoming the third-generation to join the family business, and Niki and Josh were both employed in other professional fields before becoming the fourth-generation.

Strong family ties brought Joel Russ's grandchildren and great-grandchildren back to the Lower East Side, and it's no surprise that they're passionate about food and community. For a more comprehensive history, see this great timeline.

In the old days they sold products like kapchunkas, whole unprocessed fish hung up to dry. This had to be done just right or the fish would spoil. Russ & Daughters no longer sells kapchunkas but the sign remains. Second-generation Russ Anne Russ Federman remembers a few other items no longer available at the store: "oval cans of tomato herring (they were delicious), butterfish, shad, shemykas, tarankas." Do you remember eating any of these?

Dried Polish mushrooms are used in dishes like barley and mushroom soup. They're so rich and flavorful that just a few can season a whole pot.

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