Stopsky's Delicatessen on Mercer Island is worth a visit by those jonesing for Jewish food.
I don’t have a bubbie or a zayde; there’s nary a Jewish mother in my whole family tree, except for one aunt-by-marriage whose cinnamon-dusted rugelach I still fondly recall. But I grew up in a Pittsburgh neighborhood chockablock with Jewish delis; then I moved to New York City and lived a short subway ride from Katz’s and Barney Greengrass.
Here in Seattle it hasn’t been so easy to find real New York bagels much less lox, blintzes, latkes and kreplach. But Stopsky’s Delicatessen, hidden in a Mercer Island strip mall, has all that and then some.
Much of what Stopsky’s sells they make right there: the jars of pickles that line the floor-to-ceiling pantry shelves behind the deli case; the pastrami, corned beef and tongue inside it awaiting the knife; even the cel-ray soda: a crisp, effervescent, celery-seed tonic.
On the counter, a bounty of breads (rye, potato, challah, multigrain) keep company with baskets of fresh bagels that will give your jaws a proper workout. Masterful baker Andrew Meltzer, formerly of Columbia City Bakery, also makes pastries like rugelach, mandelbrot (the Jewish version of biscotti) and dainty tri-corner hamantaschen . Any one would make a fine nosh with your Stumptown cappuccino.
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Yes, they have espresso drinks, along with cocktails and egg creams (a sweet, fizzy milk drink New Yorkers are inexplicably fond of that contains neither egg nor cream); an example of what co-owner Jeff Sanderson (ancestral name Stopsky) means when he calls his non-Kosher approach “tradition, updated.”
Another example: the Latke Benedict at brunch. Potato pancakes, bronze and crusty from the fry basket, support poached eggs, perfectly balanced hollandaise and your choice of pastrami, salami, lox or greens. (Make mine the peppery, fat-rimmed, lightly smoked pastrami.)
Blintzes are another wickedly delicious weekend treat. Sweet ricotta cream bursts from these folded, crepelike pancakes paired with tart apple sauce.
The Reuben is available anytime. Stopsky’s standout version stacks surpassingly tender, shaved corned beef two inches high under a drift of sauerkraut. (Its vegetarian cousin, “Sham on Rye,” subs Smoked Tomato Field Roast for the meat.)
Matzoh ball soup offers rotund dumplings, neither too heavy nor too light, in blandly soothing chicken broth. Chicken soup moistens brisket-filled kreplach as well, but those potsticker-like packages also come fried to a delicate crunch, garnished with ribbons of frizzled kale, and (tradition, updated alert) sauced with sharply acidic aioli that was to my taste a bit too much bling for these plain Janes.
Not so plain are zaftig cabbage rolls plumped with minced beef and rice. Their warm spices and peppery zing mingle nicely with a sweet-and-sour sauce chunky with tomato, sultanas and dried currants.
Whitefish salad is perky with capers, red onion and preserved lemon, but the smoked fish itself was somewhat stolid. Lox, too, had lovely flavor, but was thickly cut and a little mushy.
When darkness descends, the raw wood, butcher block and white tile interior feels cozier. The overhead lights dim and votives pop up on each table. After 5, an evening fresh sheet, introduced in September, augments the all-day menu of soups, sandwiches and noshes.
At dinner I was impressed by pumpkin soup tangy with sumac; by a spicy salad of roasted Delicata squash, fresh figs and arugula sharpened with pomegranate molasses; and by carefully grilled coho salmon on a pumpkin latke with sautéed kale and chanterelles. Brisket was disappointingly dry, but the roasted carrots, tiny turnips and Ozette potatoes with it were a joy. A burger with sweet-potato fries was outstanding.
In the chaotic early weeks after Stopsky’s May debut, the deli endured something close to the seven plagues: long lines, lots of eighty-sixed items, a small fire, the opening chef’s departure and rough reviews. Things are calmer now. Executive chef Shane Robinson and sous-chef Austin Zimmerman have the kitchen under control, the dining room operates with brisk efficiency and charming kibitzers staff the deli counter. You shouldn’t leave without stopping for a bag of bagels to go; maybe a little chopped liver, too.
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