Magazine article The New Yorker

Tables for Two: Schmear Campaign

Magazine article The New Yorker

Tables for Two: Schmear Campaign

Article excerpt

TABLES FOR TWO

SCHMEAR CAMPAIGNRuss & Daughters Cafe open Wednesdays through Mondays from 10 A.M. to 10 P.M.; smoked-fish platters $70-$90. Black Seed Bagels open daily from 7 A.M. to 4 P.M.; bagel sandwiches $5-$15.

Russ & Daughters Cafe, 127 Orchard St. (212-475-4881); Black Seed Bagels, 170 Elizabeth St. (212-730-1950)

On a recent sunday afternoon, two men sat back to back at Russ & Daughters Cafe. One, in his eighties, reclined in a wheelchair, wearing a nylon tracksuit; the other, in his thirties, sported chambray and skinny jeans, cuffed to expose bare ankles. The Lower East Side has changed tremendously in the hundred years since Joel Russ opened a tiny shop to supply a mostly Jewish neighborhood with "appetizing," defined by his great-grandchildren and successors as "the foods one eats with bagels." But, inflation aside (at $1,895, five hundred grams of Osetra Gueldenstaedtii caviar costs about as much as a month's rent for a studio apartment on East Houston Street), Russ & Daughters has remained almost exactly the same, and has sold enough smoked fish and cream cheese to open a full-service restaurant a few blocks away.

The Cafe is a master class in how to court both the old and the new, imbued with a hard-earned air of authority and gorgeously designed to pay detailed homage to Russ & Daughters' history and to the mid-century soda fountain. Wallpaper makes art out of sesame seeds and Take-A-Number tickets. Servers, wearing white lab coats and ties, deliver frothy egg creams and platters of sable and Gaspe Nova, glistening like candy, to marble tables in sun-washed slate-green booths. …

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