This year, Russ & Daughters is celebrating a century of serving cured fish and bagels to New York’s Lower East Side. The iconic institution, still run by the Russ family in its fourth generation, is observing the milestone with a book, a new café, and a movie from documentary filmmaker Julie Cohen.
Cohen first learned of the legendary appetizing shop while making a documentary for PBS called “The Jews of New York.” Reportedly, she googled “babka” and “Lower East Side.” While the store sells many traditional Jewish food items (including the aforementioned chocolate loaf), it is their wide variety of fish that has made them famous: pickled, smoked, or kippered, salmon, herring, or sturgeon, Russ & Daughters has the best.
The trailer for “Sturgeon Queens” features several of the famous faces who agreed to be interviewed to sing the store’s praises, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Brooklyn resident Maggie Gyllenhaal. But the most important interviewees are Hattie and Anne, the 100- and 92-year-old (respectively) surviving Russ daughters.
At its founding, Russ & Daughters’ neighborhood was the largest hub of Jewish life in the country. But Jews quickly left the Lower East Side; the area lost its last kosher restaurant last year. However, stalwarts like Russ & Daughters and Katz’s Deli (located down the block) have survived.
The store has recently enjoyed a resurgence in wider cultural awareness, thanks not only to renewed interest in Ashkenazi Jewish food, but to a featured scene in the popular FX series “Louie” from comedian Louis C.K.
“Sturgeon Queens” is screening at film festivals across the country. A schedule is available on the film’s website.