There are very few places to eat in our town, or any town, where you can have a good meal, check out local art, drink a cold beer and let your kids climb the booths with no dirty looks, all in one visit. And be on your way in less than 30 minutes.
Sticks Kebob Shop hits all those marks. A Charlottesville-based cafAc chain that serves up meat on a stick and other Mediterranean-style items, Sticks was started by a group of fine-dining restaurant veterans in 2001. With two successful locations in C-ville, its Richmond outpost opened in September on Willow Lawn Drive. If word gets out, I expect more will follow.
There are many things to love about Sticks, first being the brilliantly simple idea behind the place: a fresh, inventive menu, prepared to order and served quickly at the counter. Even for those folks not well-acquainted with Mediterranean staples such as hummus, kebabs, kibbe or tabbouleh, the concept is user-friendly. First, you choose sandwich, salad or platter, then a meat, vegetable or falafel kebab, and finally, one of its four sauces. For an extra 75 cents, you can throw in feta, grilled onions, cured olives or a 2-ounce serving of one of the side dishes. Over the course of three visits, I never had a bad bite.
The meat kebabs at Sticks take center stage, and they're uniquely seasoned and flame-grilled. I'll be having the herbed chicken again and again, but the chili-spiked beef, African-spiced pork, lemony shrimp and house-made kibbe sausage patties are also worth a trip. The lamb is fine but a little tough. I try the falafel kebab for my vegan mother and know she would approve: The spiced chickpea fritters are delicately crunchy and nicely seasoned.
The salad, sandwich and platter options are all kebab-worthy. The salads are filled with fresh greens, sweet cherry tomatoes, carrots, warm grilled onions, and — making all grandmothers south of the Mason-Dixon Line proud — peeled cucumbers. Add the optional feta and spicy red pepper sauce and you're in salad heaven. The sandwich is a winner too, with the kebab wrapped in warm flat bread with lettuce and tomato. At $8.99, the platter may be a tad overpriced for just a single kebab over rice and a small side, but you can add a second stick for $3.50 and make it a real meal.
The sides run the gamut from pretty good to outstanding. The marinated grilled vegetables are the standout of the bunch — smoky and tangy, with plenty of onion and basil. The cucumber-tomato salad and tabbouleh are both fresh and nicely herbed. The hummus, while not as thick or smooth as some might like, is still quickly polished off with a bag of pita chips and some carrot sticks. The only disappointment of perhaps the entire menu is the sesame green beans — tough and bland. But the french fries are thick-cut and salty, and the onion rings rival those at a pricey steakhouse.
Let's hear it for the guys behind the counter: the one who carries your dinner out to the car when you have two children in tow; the other one who gives you a thumbs-up and a “way to go” for recycling your beer bottle. The seating and dAccor are family-friendly and comfortable without being utilitarian. The works by local artists from Crossroads Art Center on the walls remind us that even though our food was ready in five minutes, we're in a local establishment, not another sandwich chain. A healthy kids' meal includes chicken that isn't fried and carrot sticks. There are vegan and vegetarian options, and the creamy tomato-dill soup tastes good even when it's 90 degrees outside.
The butterscotchy, oatmeal-raisin cookies will make your day, and the fresh limeade and mango lemonade are as tart and refreshing as they come. And nothing costs more than $10.
Now what are you waiting for? S
Sticks Kebob Shop $
1700 Willow Lawn Drive, Willow Lawn Plaza
Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday: noon-8 p.m.