This place is hard to define. It’s a cafe. It’s a pho and congee joint. It’s a sandwich shop. But perhaps Stock (500 N.W. 65th St., 402-3281, stockseattle.com), the restaurant located in the former home of the Ridgeback Café, is best summed up as just a neighborhood hangout, a place to get some comforting, affordable “farm-to-table” chow, be it a bowl of Vietnamese noodles, a plate of duck hash, or a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup—along with a great cup of coffee or a blood-orange mimosa.
Located where Ballard and Phinney Ridge collide, Stock is the sort of place I wish more restauranteurs and chefs would bring us. As the city grows up and a new restaurant hot spot seems to appear every week, this feels like an antidote to the big-time construction and the big-name establishments, less pomp than circumstance. And, indeed, Stock is quietly bustling with folks who live nearby, and its illustrations of Japanese gardens, paper flowers on the tables, and light wooden booths suggest little beyond simplicity—evoking an ambience of casual warmth on a budget.
The food is weighted toward Asian with its Vietnamese pho and duck sandwich, the Chinese congee, the Thai green curry, and the Madras chicken-salad sandwich. But then—surprise—there’s a meatball sandwich and a PB&J as well. It is also weighted toward healthfulness. All the soup broths are either chicken- or vegetable-based, and nearly everything comes with a vegetarian option. You can sub tofu for duck, mushrooms for meatballs. There is no beef for your pho; instead you choose from shredded duck or chicken, turkey meatballs, or turducken (when is the last time you saw that on a menu?). Ditto for the congee. I had a hard time giving into pho without raw beef to cook in it. The shredded duck, however, is slow-cooked overnight at 200 degrees, which yields fall-apart-tender meat. But while the chicken broth has plenty of flavor, and the noodles are fair, there are not enough pieces of the duck. It tastes like, well, healthier pho, and made me yearn for some fatty brisket or tripe. There’s a reason that the Vietnamese typically make it with beef; it brings a heftier taste to the soft-spoken broth and herbs.
The congee fares well enough, salty and rib-sticking. I chose turkey meatballs for mine, and loved the addition of hard-boiled egg slices. Is it a match for Kraken Congee’s? Nope. It’s missing the pizazz. Is it tasty enough? Yes.
What is formidable, though, is the duck hash and the duck sandwich. The hash, which we ordered from the brunch menu, has huge chunks of that slow-roasted duck leg sneaking out behind a fried egg, commingling with breakfast potatoes (purple and gold) and beautiful house-roasted beets. Pickled carrot and daikon top it all and add a note of acidity to the rich mix, as well as more pops of color. Likewise, the sandwich, which we had at dinner, is perfection on a bun—a pressed hominy roll, to be precise, which is similar to a brioche but a little less fluffy. It has that note of sweetness, though, that makes magic when countered against the savory duck, pickled beets and carrots, and an assertive garlic herb mayo that plays conductor to the whole works. The meatball sandwich, served on a ciabatta-style roll, is solid if not sensational. The sauce could use work; it has a slightly jarred taste, though I’m sure it’s homemade. I especially enjoyed that the sandwiches are served with a tangle of arugula lightly dressed in oil and vinegar.
Brunch and dinner specials are found at the counter, where you order and get a number. (When Stock is busy, this wait can be longer than you’d expect, given that their motto is “slow food … fast.” In fact, we waited so long for our dinner sandwiches and pho that the server came out and apologized and sent us home with two huge cookies. But I digress.) Specials might be a “Happy Vegan Hash” with baby shiitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, red and purple potatoes, herbs, and pickled beets and carrots, with the option to add a duck egg for $2; or a “French Toast Sammy,” with housemade turkey sausage and a cheese omelet served on French toast (made from a pullman loaf) with a side of syrup and fruit. Though I didn’t get to try the Sammy, I’m a sucker for a breakfast that combines sweet and salty. And speaking of breakfast, Stock is poised to be more of a brunch and lunch spot than dinner—given its low-key vibe, brunch-friendly food, and bottomless coffee and mimosas.