At Muriel’s, a new kosher restaurant in Seward Park, employees aren’t allowed to turn on the oven where bagels, bialys, and loaves of challah are baked every day; a rabbi turns it on via remote control. Other rabbis oversee the production of the cream cheese that’s smeared on the lox bagels, starting from when the cow is milked. There are two dish sinks in the kitchen — one for equipment that’s touched dairy, the other in a cordoned-off pareve (no meat, no dairy) bakery.
The new restaurant from Zylberschtein’s owner Josh Grunig opened quietly on January 20 in Third Place Books’ Seward Park location; the kitchen is certified Cholov Yisroel, one of the strictest kosher dairy certifications, and the bakery is certified Pas Yisroel, meaning the oven has to be turned on and off under the supervision of rabbis. In a city with few kosher restaurants, Grunig wanted a space where people could eat, regardless of how closely they follow kosher rules. The menu is vegetarian except for the lox and whitefish.
Grunig grew up as a reform Jew in San Francisco without a large Jewish community, but his two businesses have given him the opportunity to explore his Jewish identity through food. He named Muriel’s after his grandmother, Muriel Stein, who was an inspiration to him and loved food and beer. Zylberschtein’s, his popular Pinehurst Jewish-style deli and bakery, is not kosher, so he says the certification process became an impromptu education. “I didn’t grow up eating a lot of kosher food,” he says. “I thought it would be a great challenge, a really good learning experience.”
The location is a large building with an arched wood-paneled ceiling, with Third Place Books taking up half the space. The other half has a kitchen and two stalls, one occupied by Muriel’s and the other by the third location of Chuck’s Hop Shop. There’s also some seating downstairs next to a wall full of high-end beer; owner Chuck Shin says the downstairs will eventually house a walk-in beer cooler, as soon as it shows up (there have been delays due to pandemic-related supply chain issues). The building has been empty except for the bookstore for nearly two years. Cafe and restaurant Raconteur, which formerly occupied the space, closed at the beginning of the pandemic.
Muriel’s menu is a mix of foods from the Jewish diaspora. Some of the highlights are the same as those at Zylberschtein’s — chewy bagels with a rich wheat flavor and a hint of tang from sourdough starter, challah, lox, whitefish salad. But there are new dishes too, meant to complement beer, like carrot and chickpea flour fritters served alongside a yogurt sauce made with dukkah, a Middle Eastern sauce of nuts — in this case, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, cumin and chili peppers. The Israeli fries, dusted with chili pepper powder and sprinkled with feta, are another addition, as is the Israeli toast, a slice of challah slathered with avocado and topped with a fried egg, feta, and za’atar.
Shin approached Grunig in August about partnering to take over the space. The baker was able to open Muriel’s after a crowdfunding campaign (including lots of presales) that raised almost $57,000. Grunig thinks this level of support was possible because of what Zylberschtein’s has done for the Seattle community — those within the Jewish culture and those just being introduced to it. He’s organized multiple fundraisers through his original restaurant, including a February 19 “Bagel trot” from Rachel’s Bagels & Burritos in Ballard to Zylberschtein’s, which will raise money for Mary’s Place, an organization that provides shelter to homeless families. Grunig wants to continue this community work in Seward Park with Muriel’s.
Grunig says he’s starting with a small menu for now and wants to grow slowly to maintain quality; he has plans to expand the menu and extend hours once he’s hired a bigger team. Shin, meanwhile, wants to grow his tap list from 10 to 50 beers. Eventually, Grunig envisions Muriel’s to be somewhere Seward Park residents can get a bite any time of day with “big Texas-toast cuts of challah with fried eggs and cheese and spicy mayo” for breakfast, soups and sandwiches (grilled cheese, tuna melts) for lunch, and an expanded menu of drinking snacks for dinner.
Muriel’s doesn’t have a “bagel club” delivery service the way Zylberschtein’s does — yet — but Grunig sees that coming in around six months once he increases bagel production. Ultimately, he wants to form a strong bond with his new kosher-keeping clientele, and what better way than bringing pareve bagels to their doorsteps?