People wearing masks gather at Muriel's restaurant on a weekday

Muriel’s Brings Long-Awaited Kosher Eats to Seward Park

by Emily Alhadeff

What does it take to get a decent bagel and schmear in this town?

For a long time, that was the question on the minds of Seattle’s bagel enthusiasts. After a booming bagel scene in the ’90s went bust, the Northwest stood barren, far removed from the yeasty coffers of the tri-state area. 

No longer. Seattle’s bagel scene is on the rise. Don’t take my word for it — even chef and author J. Kenji López-Alt says so. Over the past few years, Rubinstein, Westman’s, Loxsmith, Mt. Bagel, and Zylberschtein’s have joined more established venues, like Bagel Oasis and Eltana, to much acclaim — and also some kvetching. With so much riding on this humble roll — flavor, family, history, identity — it’s not surprising people have strong feelings about it. 

The latest café on the scene is Muriel’s, a spinoff of Zylberschtein’s, Josh Grunig’s Pinehurst Jewish-style deli. Muriel’s — named for Grunig’s grandmother — fills the space left vacant by Raconteur in Third Place Books’ Seward Park location, and the bagel-sized hole in the South End’s heart. (It may signal a trend, as rumors of Loxsmith opening a Georgetown location are circulating.)

“There’s this invigorated interest in Jewish food right now,” Grunig told me shortly after he announced the opening of Muriel’s in November. 

Many members of Seattle’s Jewish observant community, who exclusively eat kosher food in accordance with Jewish dietary laws, reside in the South End neighborhood. Ever since Bamboo Garden, a beloved Chinese vegetarian spot in Queen Anne, closed during the pandemic, there have been no free-standing kosher restaurants in Seattle proper. The closest bet is Einstein Bros within the University Village QFC, which nearly lost its kosher status a few months ago. Outside of Seattle city limits are Island Crust Café, a pizza restaurant on Mercer Island; Pabla Indian Cuisine of Renton; and Teapot Vegetarian House in Redmond. None of the regional kosher establishments serve meat. 

Opening Muriel’s, Grunig says, was a response, in part, to inquiries about whether Zylberschtein’s served kosher food. 

Muriel’s kosher status has an impact on its menu. Since kosher laws prohibit eating dairy and meat together, Muriel’s is all cream cheese, no bacon. And that’s just scratching the surface. Tomes of regulations complicate kitchens, including who is doing the cooking and which utensils are used. To maintain its kosher status, an expert trained in these rules has to check up on the kitchen every so often.

Muriel's menu includes bagels as well as soups, sandwiches, fries, and sweets
The menu at Muriel’s restaurant. (Photo: Susan Fried)

This arrangement among the kosher-certified and noncertified parties that exist side by side in the Third Place space makes for a unique ordering and serving experience. Since Muriel’s is a joint venture with Chuck’s Hop Shop, whose bottle shop occupies the basement level, and that operates a café as well, I wasn’t sure where to order. By the beer? By the coffee? Neither of which is next to the kitchen. After ordering (by the beer one time; by the coffee another), you have ample time to blow your book budget while waiting for your buzzer to light up, alerting you to the revelation that your order has unceremoniously materialized on a rack in the back corner of the restaurant. All orders are prepared to go, even if you plan to dine in, due to the regulations around the use of dishes and utensils in spaces that also provide noncertified kosher food — Chuck’s café serves some of its own goodies, and there’s nothing stopping someone from bringing their own food in.

“Because we’re also sharing the space with the Chuck’s people and the bookstore, there has been a little confusion about how the space works,” Grunig said. “Once people come and get an explanation, I think they understand.”

For the kosher audience who is thrilled to be able to eat something, Muriel’s is a godsend, even if the ordering process is awkward. The classic lox and cream cheese bagel carries the day. The sesame seed bagel (the only kind of bagel, in my opinion) is on the denser side but balances chewiness and lightness. More complicated options, like the Kingfisher egg-lox-cream-cheese bagel sandwich, exist for the adventurous. (“We try to make big, ridiculous sandwiches that people can share,” Grunig said.) The bialys — holeless bagel cousins with fried onions baked into the center — are rewarding, if less onion-y and dense than their East Coast ancestors. 

Where Muriel’s shines is where it’s not trying to replicate East Coast staples, but leading with its own inventive creations, like the Israeli fries, which come covered in a pile of deliciously salty feta cheese. With offerings like these, Muriel’s joins a growing trend of Jewish-style restaurants embracing more Middle Eastern flavors, going so far as to invent new recipes (Israeli fries, as far as I know, aren’t actually a thing in Israel). 

The other winner is the Israeli toast, a riff on avocado toast but with challah and topped with an over-easy egg. “It’s kind of playful,” Grunig said. “Everyone loves avocado toast. We definitely needed to have that on the menu.” 

Likewise, the jelly doughnut is doughy with a dense center of berry jam and coated in sugar. It’s substantial enough to be a full meal, and it goes fast. 

Recently, Grunig added a portobello reuben to the menu, which will please vegetarians but may fall short of satisfying the desires of the corned beef on rye crowd, like one guy who complained he’d driven all the way there only to learn Muriel’s has no corned beef, deeming it “not a Jewish deli.” 

“Those are kind of the semi-ridiculous interactions I have at times,” Grunig said. Given the community-facing orientation and the strong feelings bagels and delis arouse, Grunig has perhaps been adjusting to more feedback than a new establishment would normally expect to receive. Some of that is certainly for the better: He’s already created a more affordable menu option designed for seniors on fixed incomes and changed the business hours to open and close earlier after recognizing that patrons weren’t that into bagels and breakfast foods later in the day.

The big question for Muriel’s is the one that looms large for every new restaurant, and even more for kosher restaurants with high overhead and limited menus: Can it please its customers enough to eke out a profit? So far, Grunig is handling the critiques with humor.

“I’m trying to bridge the gap between being profitable and giving people what they want,” he said. “Feeding people, that’s what I love doing. I hope that if we keep putting a lot of love into what we’re doing, that’s going to sustain us long term.”

Disclosure: Zylberschtein’s partners with The Cholent, the author’s newsletter, by offering subscriber discounts, but it does not pay the author in cash or goods.

Emily Alhadeff is an editor with SagaCity Media, the former editor of Jewish in Seattle magazine, and the creator of The Cholent, a Substack newsletter for Seattle’s Jewish community. She lives in Seward Park/Rainier Valley.

📸 Featured Image: People gather at Muriel’s restaurant on a weekday. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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