OY, THE DRAMA. This Northwest-fresh rendition of a Jewish deli in Mercer Island’s burgeoning commercial district was meant to be the brilliant collaboration of two Seattle culinary superstars: Andrew Meltzer, who spearheaded Columbia City Bakery’s rise to Seattle’s bread-making upper crust, and Robin Leventhal, the feisty Top Chef alum whose dear departed Capitol Hill restaurant Crave is still actively mourned. But from the moment Stopsky’s opened its doors last May weirdness plagued its operation, from awful early reviews to an espresso machine fire in its second week to the abrupt departure of Leventhal (whom both sides hint may be keener on launching projects than stewarding them). Patiently we waited for the snazzy deli to get its organizational act together; rarely has patience been so amply rewarded.
Owner Jeff Sanderson—the Americanization of his grandfather’s name, Stopsky—has filled the south wall with crisply framed photos of Jewish family and community members, and filled bakery displays with Meltzer’s cookies and pastries and glorious loaves and perhaps the region’s best bagels. He’s stuffed the deli cases with house-smoked meats and mustards and pickled salads, which the affable, knowledgeable servers can package to go or whip into lunch plates. A hot sandwich of thick, spicy pastrami with sinus-rooting mustard on fine seeded rye was a $7.95 revelation. For four bucks more we could have upgraded to Wagyu pastrami—this ain’t your bubbe’s deli—but the precision that went into every aspect of the regular sandwich, in which everything was crafted in house, was plenty outstanding.
This tension between the traditional and the updated has not been everyone’s glass of seltzer. (“That’s one beautiful thing about Jewish people: Nobody hesitates to tell you their opinion,” smiles Sanderson.) Still, that revisionism animates Stopsky’s entire enterprise—kasha varnishkes made with local farro instead of traditional groats, latkes Benedict, sweet-and-sour borscht—to exuberant effect, honoring Jewish heritage not only through representation but inspiration.
To wit: When an early version of matzoh ball soup featured more of a riff than purists could stand—matzoh balls shaped like quenelles—Sanderson invited the community to send in their recipes. The one selected was very traditional, starring a fluffy round matzoh ball, but the second-place winner was an all-new version incorporating, among other exotics, truffle oil.
This month when Stopsky’s expands into dinner service, both will be on the menu.