Recently, my coworker Kathryn Robinson wrote up Stopsky’s, the Mercer Island delicatessen that has endured so much drama in its short life, it might as well have its own fragrance line and a suspended driver’s license brought on by one too many DUIs.
The considerable anticipatory buzz around Stopsky’s was centered on the hire of Robin Leventhal; the Top Chef alum is a darling of the local foodie scene. Leventhal and crew started serving up sandwiches in May; the deli was reportedly packed from the get-go, running out of food in its early days and experiencing an espresso-machine explosion that shut it down in week two. Then Leventhal packed up her knives and left Stopsky’s abruptly, prompting tittering and twittering among the local culinary crew. And then came that Seattle Weekly review. That terrible, take-no-prisoners Seattle Weekly review. Hanna Raskin decried the service, the dishes, the…everything. Reading the article, brutally titled “Sham on Rye,” you could almost see the flies start to circle around the strip-mall lunch spot.
Which is why, on a recent visit to Stopsky’s, I was surprised to find a booming neighborhood spot, packed to its gills with senior citizens digging into lox and bagels and young parents negotiating strollers through the tight aisle between the to-go counter and dining room, and a long table of Japanese food tourists snapping photos of their latkes. The scene was happy, energized. Stopsky’s was very much alive, and thriving.
“Patiently we waited for the snazzy deli to get its organizational act together;” wrote Robinson, “rarely has patience been so amply rewarded.” To describe the food she employed adjectives like inspired, revelatory, and outstanding.
The whole thing reminds me of Ba Bar. Eric Bahn’s 12th Ave noodle joint endured similar early drama—a lying barman with lax sanitation standards, reports of weird service….A friend of mine was once served a glass at Bar Bar containing only an ice cube and garnish; the liquid contents of his cocktail had been forgotten in the chaos.
Go to Ba Bar today, however, and you’ll be served cocktails crafted from one of the best bartenders in town. And while the service still has its ups and downs, it’s certainly worth the occasional awkward encounter to experience the vinegary Draper Valley rotisserie chicken or the sweat-provoking steamed clams with jalapenos.
It all goes to show you: Sometimes these things take time. If you believe in a restaurant concept and the people behind it, don’t take early mishaps as an indication that it’s forever doomed. Raskin’s critique likely lit a fire under the owners of Stopsky’s, and that is a good thing. Give a restaurant the chance to get its act together, and it might surprise you.