The changing view in the Town Center | Mix of Island business remains in flux

New construction projects continue in this view east along S.E. 27th Street in the downtown business district of Mercer Island, Feb. 3. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
New construction projects continue in this view east along S.E. 27th Street in the downtown business district of Mercer Island, Feb. 3.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Islanders continue to embrace new businesses in the Town Center, while others quietly slip away.

Two new eateries have opened up since last November: Island Crust, a kosher pizzeria and restaurant on the main floor of the Island Corporate Center, and Northwest Thai, which has replaced Thai on Mercer in Tabit Square. Meanwhile, the popular family ice cream parlor, Maggie Moos, has shut its doors.

According to Island Crust manager Richard Berger, the kosher restaurant is a busy place these days, despite the current recession.

“Things have been excellent. We’ve got a great lunch crowd: people in the [Corporate Center] and the downtown area. And we get a lot of the Jewish population in the evening,” he said.

The only kosher restaurant on Mercer Island, Island Crust has filled a niche left open since Noah’s shed its kosher identity when the old site was torn down to make way for Island Square. Observing the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday, Island Crust is closed except for one hour after Shabbos until midnight. It is open all other days of the week, offering a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. The restaurant also has a small retail corner, with everything from colorful candy assortments to kosher cheeses, fresh baked challah and imported snacks from Israel.

Yet the restaurant’s main draw, according to Berger, is its pizzas.

“We hope that our pizzas compete with other [pizzerias] in their taste, going beyond just kosher,” the manager said. Based on the restaurant tabletops, cluttered with colorful pizzas and half-empty pans, it could be the most popular item on the menu. Yet not the only item, for sure.

Island Crust offers homemade lasagna, macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, eggplant parmesan, daily soups and a number of fresh salads. The restaurant also has as an espresso bar, with fresh baked goods and breakfast items in the morning. Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the restaurant’s specialty desert menu, ranging from New York style cheesecake to ice cream sundaes.

Since opening in November, Island Crust has drawn pedestrians and drivers to one of the Town Center’s least obvious dining spots.

Northwest Thai remains somewhat of another Town Center secret, as many people do not realize the restaurant has replaced Thai on Mercer, according to waitress Vicki Tran.

“Thai on Mercer closed for a month and opened in November under new ownership,” Tran said. “We still get regular customers, but many of our old customers don’t realize that we’ve reopened.”

New owner Cindy Hassmann has upscaled the restaurant’s menu. Although slightly pricier, Northwest Thai continues to serve Islanders an array of spicy entrees from “contemporary” Thai cuisine. According to the menu, the dishes are uniquely created by “blending Thai and American spices with the freshest and finest Northwest food products.”

Those who used to frequent Thai on Mercer during lunch will be pleased to see that Northwest Thai has kept up its special afternoon menu, a full table of entrees, rice and soup for under $10. Northwest Thai also has a fresh interior. A new bamboo floor and stylish furniture creates a chic, Asian ambiance.

Two blocks away, Islanders can find another exotic escape. Spa Mercer, “where East meets West,” opened its doors on Jan. 1, bringing age-old Chinese tradition to the Island’s growing spa culture.

The family-run spa offers an array of pampering, from the basic neck massage to an ancient Chinese “gua sha” remedy. A therapeutic mud bath, hot stone massage and cleansing facials are also tempting options. The prices range from $45 for a basic massage to $325 for the “Head-to-Toe Rejuvenation” package.

For each new business that has opened up downtown, the Island has lost another.

Maggie Moos closed its doors last month, leaving Baskin and Robbins as the sole creamery for year-round ice cream lovers. Initial Tropical Plants, a plant warehouse located in the decades-old Safeway building on 76th Avenue S.E., has also shut down, its soaring windows boarded up. A Quiznos chain will soon fill the empty space of Cobbs bakery in The Mercer, which closed months ago. And a number of “for-lease” posters have popped up in various Town Center corners; signs of more change to come.

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