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Carytown's Stix offers little to set it apart from the restaurant pack.

Pub Grub

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Stix Bar and Grille
2811 W. Cary St.
Monday-Saturday 11:30-2 a.m.
Sunday 12 p.m.-12 a.m.
340-1815

The significance of the name, a waitress explained, was that early-on, Stix gave "sticks" to patrons, who would bang in time to the music on the metal signs that decorate the walls. Drumming patrons got a little wild, she said, giggling, so they stopped giving the sticks away.

Too bad. When they quit that, this haunt may well have surrendered the one element that could set it apart. What's left is a bare-bones, below-average pub food spot in Carytown, which already teems with eateries, including great sandwich haunts.

After our waitress told us we "could smoke anywhere," I started wondering if there's a connection to another kind of stick. There is not a no-smoking section. The Camel logo adorns cocktail napkins, ashtrays and the table cards marketing nightly events. I looked around, saw that mine was the only cigarette in sight and thought that just maybe that camel's back will break when people stop smoking in bars.

Stix might well become the next spot for karaoke, DJ music and the getting-to-know-you crowd. Listening in on a couple of belly-laughing groups, I doubt those folks will fret about food. The beer is icy and the barkeep is funny, friendly and efficient.

But I was sent to check out the eats and Stix won't see me again. Sandwiches and snacks dominate the list of offerings so we focused there during our visits.

Onion rings — delivered on foot or half-foot dowels — were piping hot, crisp and greasy, and I'd swear they were frozen. If I were starving, I'd go for these again at $3 for nine huge rings served with bottled barbecue sauce.

The broccoli cheese florets ($5) were dipped in cheese, deep-fried and served with a watery ranch dip. They came lukewarm to us.

The dip was a generous portion of crab and spinach combined with cheeses. It was hot and presented in a bread bowl and we lapped up every bite. For $6, this is a good value. Great pub grub.

Four burger variations are offered — including a portabella — and we tried the house burger ($5.50). A half-pound of beef came on a fragrant bun with iceberg lettuce and some tomato. Without bacon or blue cheese or chili, this was a simplify-your-life burger: ordinary and dry, with the sawdusty quality I've come to expect from preformed and frozen beef.

The same nice bread was offered with other sandwiches. The crab cake ($7) was large enough to fill out the huge roll, but it was full of filling and short on flavor.

The chicken sandwich — a plump breast portion grilled to the perfect tenderness — was the best of the lot. The barbecue sauce was ordinary, reminding me of flavors I've bought in many a grocery store bottle. But this sandwich ($5) was, as advertised, a fresh breast, and the bacon and provolone helped to amplify the ensemble. We tried slaw and the red-skinned potato salads. Our waitress told us they made the salads on premises, but they tasted like the ones I buy at the grocery deli. The baked beans — rich with molasses and a smoky flavor — were by far the best of the sides.

Trying to let Stix put its best food forward, we tried other items and again found disappointment.

Nicely seasoned with a fiery coating, the blackened tuna steak ($10) was unevenly cooked (more tender in the center and overcooked around the edges). Underlying the toughness was a less than perfectly fresh flavor.

Two skewers of K-bobs ($10.50) combined four bait-sized shrimp with four nibbles of (tender but not particularly flavorful) filet with a cluster of fresh vegetables.

Our waiters were warmly casual and mostly attentive. We had to ask for salt and the check on one visit. On another, our waitress gamely ran up and down the steps to take good care of us.

The staff was vivacious without being perky, just naturally warm and friendly. The bartender came across the same way. I came away thinking that some really nice people run the place. Too bad the food's so

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