Sometimes I daydream about what it would be like to live somewhere else. The West Coast could be nice. I love the idea of foggy, sixty degree days year-round in a city like Seattle or San Francisco. Or what if I lived abroad? Sweden, perhaps, where the schools are great and everywhere looks like a cross between a fairy tale and an Ikea. (OK, might need to fact check that one, but I’m pretty confident I’m not that far-off.)
I want to be this kind of wandering, worldly person who can unpack themselves in a new place and feel invigorated by a new culture. Maybe to some extent I am, who knows. But deep, deep inside of me, probably in my colon, I imagine a bubbling pit that looks like the Earth’s core. In this place, the image I have of myself as a jet-setting Gwyneth Paltrow type gets incinerated by the volcanic magma of my true essence. My true essence is an irritated, demanding person who wonders, constantly, out-loud about why you can’t find a good bagel outside of New York. Also this person will put anybody who responds to this rhetorical question with, “it’s the water, hyuk-hyuk!” on her never-talk-to-again list.
This is all a weird, existential way of saying that my brunch at Russ & Daughters Cafe this weekend was life-affirming. I said that to Dan and he laughed at me. He knows that generally, I don’t like thinking too hard about things like brunch. But sometimes it happens. It presses up on me like a stranger on the 1 train, and it reminds me why, even if I find a couple of adventures to keep me busy, I’ll probably end up back in New York. Yes, you heard me; because of the bagels.
We tried a bunch of things, all of which were the bomb. The menu was perfect. Usually, I can rule out something because it’s got peas and I hate peas, or because I know won’t be great (like how you always only order a burger at a crappy diner; it’s the only safe option). Here, though, I wanted it all. We settled on matzo ball soup, latkes with applesauce, the “super heebster” (a bagel topped with whitefish and baked salmon salad), blintzes, and the pickled herring trio. You know that episode of Arrested Development when George Sr. is like, “I’m having a love affair with this ice cream sandwich”? That was me, eating this meal.
Anyway, I hope you all go. The wait for brunch was close to an hour, but completely worth it. More restaurants should strive to find the nostalgia and reverence for old-school classics that you feel at Russ & Daughters Cafe. Waiters in white coats, a menu featuring caviar you can’t afford alongside an every man’s smoked fish sandwich, free coffee refills, and a candy with your check– it was perfect and captured exactly the New Yorkiness I’d miss if I was ever gone for long.