Appetizing on the Lower East Side

Introduced by Eastern European Jews, who typically started their meals with cold appetizers, “Appetizing” is a Jewish contribution to the eclectic world of New York’s ethnic food traditions.

Jewish dietary laws dictate that meat and dairy products must be separated. Since they cannot be eaten or sold together, they require separate shops. Stores selling cured meats became known as delicatessens, while shops offering fish and dairy products came to be appetizing stores. To feed the hungry immigrant population of the bustling overpopulated Lower East Side, at the beginning of the 20th century, there were as many as thirty “appetizing” shops!

As the immigrant population dwindled, most of them were gone by the 1960s, leaving just a few. The most famous of them is indisputably Katz’s Delicatessen. Right next to it is one of the last of its kind, Russ & Daughters appetizing store.

Katz’s Delicatessen

The oldest deli in New York, Katz’s Delicatessen opened its doors in 1888 on Ludlow Street by the Iceland brothers. In 1903, the name changed to “Iceland & Katz.” By 1910, the Iceland brothers were bought out, and the store became Katz’s Delicatessen. Katz’s Deli moved to its present location in 1917.

Katz’s was not just a deli; it functioned as a focal point for community gatherings. On Fridays, the neighborhood came together to enjoy franks and beans, a Katz tradition.

Another tradition was born during World War II. When all three sons of the owners were serving in the army, the family fortified their soldiers by sending them food parcels. A tradition of sending food to the front became the company slogan: “Send A Salami To Your Boy In The Army.”

For a food institution to survive that long in New York, it had to provide uncompromising quality, and Katz’s brags that they always do. Their famous pastrami is still made out of the best cuts of beef and cured using an old-fashioned slow method. While commercially prepared corned beef is prepared in 36 hours, Katz’s product can take up to 30 days to cure.

In the romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally…”, Meg Ryan’s character famously fakes an orgasm over one of the Katz’s deli sandwiches. The table is marked with a sign that reads, “Where Harry Met Sally… Hope you have what she had! Enjoy!”

Katz’s Deli is not just a sandwich shop; it stands as a part of a living, breathing, tasty history of New York City’s colorful immigrant tradition.

Russ & Daughters

Next to Katz’s is another tasty reminder of the Jewish Lower East Side heritage — Russ & Daughters.

In the early 1900s, a Jewish immigrant from Poland by the name of Joel Russ peddled herring from a pushcart on the Lower East Side. He was able to save enough to open an appetizing shop on Orchard Street, which moved to its current location on 179 East Houston St in 1920.

In 1933 Joel Russ renamed the business “Russ & Daughters,” after his three daughters, Hattie, Ida, and Anne. It is the first known American business with “& Daughters” in its name!

These days, one can have a taste of Russ & Daughters’ delicacies at The Shop next to the Katz’s or on The Cafe at 127 Orchard St or 141 Flushing Ave in Brooklyn. The shop is still in the family through fourth-generation owners and expanding. Russ & Daughters are not just a part of culinary New York history: they are still serving their traditional dishes in the original and new locations. According to their website, they are planning on thriving for another 100+ years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s