While Burien has some terrific restaurants, its list of top players is notably lacking a drop-everything pizzeria. Shane Abbott and Justin Harcus, co-owners of essential Fremont restaurant Lupo, are looking to change that with Stevie’s Famous (822 SW 152nd St, Burien). The East Coast-inspired shop, hiring now and planning to open November 17, will serve serious pizza and sandwiches but decidedly casual vibes.
The owners have completely renovated the space — which housed Lavish Roots Catering until that company expanded a couple blocks south — and decorated it with the help of design firm Happy Vesta, run by Abbott’s wife, Amanda Okonek. Similar to how Dino’s Tomato Pie differentiates itself from upscale sibling Delancey, Stevie’s relaxed atmosphere, limited indoor and outdoor seating, and focus on takeout and delivery will be a departure from that of Lupo, which offers full-service dining by candlelight. “We have no candles at Stevie’s so we’re saving on the candle budget,” Abbott says half-jokingly. Instead, a neon sign of a UFO beaming up a slice of pizza and the flickering screens of Ms. Pac-Man and Pole Position arcade machines cast their glow upon a trippy collage of ephemera like a Bart Simpson comic and distorted smiley faces. A vending machine dispenses custom stickers and temporary tattoos created by local artist Jessica Henry. Abbott’s dog, an 11-year-old pug mix, lends her name because Stevie “sounds like someone who might make pizza,” Abbott says.
Nostalgic East Coast pizza joints inspire both the aesthetic and the menu, with its deli sandwiches, some simple sides like Caesar and chop salads, and slices as well as whole pies. As expected from the team behind Lupo’s superb pies, though, Stevie’s won’t mess around with sub-par ingredients or results. “There’s room [in Burien] for someone doing hyper-local ingredients and dorking out on the baking,” Abbott says, although in keeping with the low-key vibes, Stevie’s doesn’t lead with that angle. “We say come get some pizza, but the reality is we’re doing naturally fermented sourdough pizza, we’re making the bread from scratch in-house, and Washington’s got one of the best grain economies, so we can get everything here.” He says national darlings like San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery and New Jersey’s Razza ship Washington grains and flours around the country because they recognize how good it is. “I think it’s crazy if you don’t buy Washington flour here. You don’t need to ship from Italy.”
Stevie’s will make its own ciabatta bread for sandwiches and bake pizza in a somewhat ill-defined style like the aforementioned Razza, Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, or Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Beddia. “I think it’s Neo-American, but there isn’t really a category,” Abbott says. “It’s when you take that New York type but bake it a little hotter even than that, get a little more of an ‘artisan’ bake, for lack of a better word.” Whereas Neapolitan-style pizza like Lupo’s cooks for just one or two minutes at temperatures as high as 800 or 900 degrees, Abbott says Stevie’s bakes at closer to 600 degrees for five or six minutes, leading to a much crispier base. “At Lupo you’ll see ‘leoparding,’ caramelization from really high heat, whereas here it’s more like gradual changes in color and some darker spots.” This affects toppings, too; Stevie’s can leave its sausage par-baked when it’s going to spend more time in the oven, but can’t put basil on in advance as it would burn during the longer cooking time.
“We lean a little closer to New York than some places because we’ll do bigger sizes, starting with just 16-inch whole pies, but our slices are like 18- or 19-inch big ol’ slices,” Abbott explains. In the future, you may also find small and large versions of the whole pie.
Abbott moved from Seattle to Burien a little over a year ago, telling an all-too-familiar tale of Seattle’s sky-high housing prices and wage disparity leading him and his family to look elsewhere for a house and a new restaurant venue. “We try to be aggressive in our compensation,” he says. “If you’ve got a general manager or something, you’d hope they could buy a house someday, but it doesn’t feel like that’s in the cards in Seattle.” Abbott says Stevie’s pays about $28 to $30 per hour plus tips and paid time off, and anyone working full-time at over 32 hours per week also gets fully paid health, dental, and vision insurance. “Now we can be a little friendlier on prices and you can hopefully live in the area on the wages we’re paying.”
Abbott’s not alone in migrating to South King County; trends have shown both people and businesses heading that way. Seattle restaurants including Bakery Nouveau, Smarty Pants, and Bok a Bok have all made the leap, as did Lowrider Cookie Company in early October. Abbott now lives 10 blocks away from Stevie’s, has an office, and enthuses about the connectedness of the smaller city.
“Olde Burien is really old Main Street vibes, so it’s really cute spaces, a little commercial strip, and there’s places like Burien Press, a hip coffee shop, with more coming in. It’s real walkable, they close the streets often for events — it’s a fun place to have a shop.”