High on the Hog:: Todd Fisher’s Sticks in Spanish Bay quietly ranks as one of the best sports grills in the area – and the most beautiful.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Here’s the schtick at Sticks: You can pay for tasty, inventive eats amid plush surroundings and enough flat-screen TVs to fill an electronics showroom, but to fully enjoy emerging celeb-chef Todd Fisher’s take on classic American bar food, come hungry. Very hungry. A full wallet will help too.
On a Tuesday afternoon, the folks lounging around Sticks – the popular bar and grill at Spanish Bay Inn just off the golf links – are a monied class used to getting what they want who, on our visit, drank $15 martinis at lunch, asked for grilled cheese on “untoasted” bread, and marched in off the links to order eight beers to-go without batting an eye at the up-to-$7.25 per-bottle price tag.
But it’s not hard to see (and taste) what keeps people in this luxury bar and grill: namely, clever interpretations of classics done with precision despite the fact that the charismatic chef behind them, Fisher, is often galavanting around the country shooting his “United States of Bacon” TV show for cable channel Destination America, which airs Dec. 30.
Sticks opened in 2002, replacing the Clubhouse Grill & Bar that was in the location since 1988. Fisher took the reins in early 2011 and has made good by being calorically unapologetic.
The menu is peppered with golfing quotes from the ilk of Arnold Palmer and Bob Hope and features the usual sports bar players: wings, nachos, burgers and sandwiches, plus delicious, super-thin-crusted “Tortizza” pizzas ($15) and a few types of pasta and salad. Fisher sneaks bacon in where he can, but for a chef with a TV show about bacon, you’d think he’d lay the hog strips on heavier.
But heavy hits elsewhere. In fact, there should be a warning heeding diners to exercise caution: The portions are huge. The almost comically heaping mound of “world famous” tater-tots ($7.50), perfectly fried and tossed in parsley and salt, deserves at least some measure of fame, bolstered by green goddess dressing, standard ketchup and a sweet-‘n’-spicy chipotle ketchup that should be bottled worldwide.
Tailgate chili has nice chunks of steak, slices of garlicky andouille sausage and loads of red beans and chunks of tomato. It’s moderately spicy and fills the belly but doesn’t need the cheese on top (it just coagulated into a blob), and feels overpriced at $7.25 for a small cup.
The best seats are in the lounge by the bar, with a sweeping panoramic view of ocean blue and golf-course green. There’s minimal interior accessorizing, only choice pieces of vintage sporting equipment displayed in nooks around the rooms, with the main attraction being 23 high-definition TVs.
Fisher’s menu has its own highlights, including a rotisserie chicken Cobb sandwich ($16), New York steak and wedge salad ($31) and a bacon and bleu cheese burger ($16). The Bagpiper Specials ($17-$21) are noteworthy – a daily rotation of classic dishes from the American home-cooking canon: staples like meatloaf, pot pie, beef stroganoff, and what caused me to reschedule an entire block of days to ensure a bite, barbecue. (Also of interest: Saturday’s Southern-fried chicken and waffles, $19.)
All of the Tuesday Night Bagpiper BBQ options – hickory smoked pork ribs ($21), half beer can chicken ($18), North and South Carolina pork shoulder ($16.5) – are smoked for four hours and come with two sides (country ranch beans, coleslaw, potato salad, cornbread, tater tots or fried wheels of corn).
The pork shoulder, simmered in a red chili sauce, is fall-apart excellent. The plate is loaded with what seems like more than a pound of meat, flanked by pickled onion, a side of barbecue sauce, coleslaw and ranch-style beans.
My pescatarian fiancee considers the Thai shrimp salad ($19.75) and fish tacos ($16, enthusiastically recommended by the guard at the gatehouse), but she goes for the sourdough tuna melt ($14.75).
A cold version would’ve done better: The melt is drowning in oil from the cheese and she only manages a couple of bites before she’d had enough. Not that it was bad, it’s just that it was a lot considering we started the meal with Nachos That Were To Be Our Undoing (also called Long “Par 5” Nachos, $12.25), an arm-length platter of tri-colored tortilla chips, covered in a pepper-jack cheese sauce, black bean puree and globs of sour cream, guacamole and jalapeños. They were well-balanced – we never ate our way to a dry section and the distribution and ratio of soupy cheese, bean puree and toppings was golden, making it easy find a loaded chip in every corner. But the mass of food on what was billed as a “first bite” got the best of us.
A small waitstaff seemed to have the 20 tables under control. On the whole, service was attentive but not overbearing, but I wasn’t sure where my tip was going, as every person working the floor touched the table, which has the potential to make things a little disconnected – i.e., clearing the appetizer forks and not ensuring a replacement, or topping an Arnold Palmer off with iced tea.
Breakfast is also on the menu until 11:30am, featuring all the American classics and California staples like breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros.
The Monterey Peninsula isn’t exactly flush with standout sports bars. Which makes Sticks’ cool, casual and comfy atmosphere, insane view, TVs and Fisher’s own spin on hearty grill fare a dramatically underappreciated play.
STICKS 2700 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach. • 6am-8pm daily. • 647-7470, www.pebblebeach.com