Sticks Up

Sticks serves up dishes and views you do not expect at a sports bar. But the kitchen crew would rather have you focus on the food rather than the flat-screen. And they succeed.

You could call Sticks a sports bar. But there’s the little matter of that view, the patio with fire pits and the clubhouse setting – not to mention Chef Anna Marie Bayonito’s menu.

Imagine settling in to catch a big game. Just as it gets underway, your order of osso bucco arrives at the table. Now what? It’s a robust and rugged portion resting in a cassoulet so filling yet intricate it becomes both a foil and a friend to the pork. Suddenly a critical playoff game – the Golden State Warriors on this particular night – hardly seems to matter.

The pork carries a swagger, as does the casserole. Bayonito begins the latter with a whole ham hock. Later she introduces the braising jus, so there’s a profound meatiness layered into the cassoulet. Yet an unexpectedly bright vegetal note gives all of this a welcome lift.

The culprit? Bayonito adds pickled green beans – on the menu in French, as harîcot verts – for a fresh pop.

Yes, that’s osso bucco, cassoulet and harîcot verts. In a sports bar, along with roasted chicken breast, spaghetti and meatballs (albeit on a flatbread) and short ribs braised in a blend of coffee and chili. It’s a menu that is inviting and endearing in the way that favorite dishes from home occasionally rise from your memories and call to you.

“I love comfort food,” the chef says. “I love anything braised. It’s all love.”

She mentions Asian and Creole flavors as additional love interests. And so the grits in a large helping of shrimp and grits receives a blanket of Creole sauce that starts by rendered bacon in a pan. There’s a heft to the sauce, as well as a nice smoky streak. This wafts over a raspy bite also worked into the sauce – plenty of garlic and onion involved, and likely the rest of Louisiana’s trinity.

The sauce does smother the trace of sweetness in the grits. In fact, the ground corn’s role is limited to a filler, but the back and forth between shrimp and sauce makes up for it.

Keep in mind these plates are from a menu designed for cool weather appetites. A summer menu loaded with the more recent harvests – stone fruits, for instance – will be in place soon.

Some are already in play. The avocado-strawberry salad bursts with sweet and juicy berries. It’s tempting to snatch these from threatening crumbles of bleu cheese, in fear the sweaty, bitter yet rich bites would blot out the bright flavor. This is, however, a clever combination, with avocado for a creamy texture that soothes the cheese and a poppy seed vinaigrette that brings everything together.

The dressing carries a bracing sharpness from apple cider vinegar that brings depth to the berries, as well as a little honey for an earthy sweetness. And, Bayonito points out, “It’s really easy – just five ingredients.”

Simple comfort fare with a chef’s touch. Perhaps more sports bars should look beyond chicken wings.

STICKS 2700 17 Mile Drive (at The Inn at Spanish Bay), Pebble Beach. Dinner 5-9pm daily; breakfast and lunch served daily. 647-7470, pebblebeach.com.
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