Stax it Up: One of the hottest trends in the restaurant scene right now: Do it yourself entrees. Shifting menu decisions from the kitchen to the customer, clever restaurateurs offer a set list of ingredients for customers to customize to their gluten-free, meat-free, low-carb, Paleo-friendly, low-cal and “I don’t like onions or olives” needs. Among some of the local newcomers: Pieology’s top-your-own pizzas, Chipotle’s DIY burritos and bowls, and the recently-opened Heritage Eats (Napa), with their luxe meat and condiment sandwich fixings.
Stax Social Eatery (actually written as St@x), which recently opened in Cotati takes it one step further, with thematic trays of ingredients you can stack up any way you want.
Here’s how it works: Select from eight different trays (or tasting menus) which include tiny bites of 10-12 items. We fell hard for the “Good Indian Stuff” vegetarian tray, made up of Bombay spice potatoes, cauliflower “tots”, roasted eggplant with peanut masala, Indian flatbread, pea cakes, mango yogurt sauce, chutney, fig jam, lentils, coconut rice and chickpeas.
Then…play with your food — using fingers (heck with forks) scoop, stack, dip and nibble your way through, making up flavor combos (kulcha, red chutney, eggplant and spiced lentils, perhaps). Each tray includes 10 to 12 items, so go with a crowd and order multiple trays including the Louisiana (boudin balls, crispy pork skins, Johnny cakes, remoulade, collard greens) “Low Country” (pork rillettes, country ham, catfish, crispy chicken skin, mustard greens and pickled peaches), Northern Italy (smoked sausage, risotto cakes, brown butter gnocchi, white bean puree) or teen-friendly sliders with mini burgers, Spam and egg, pulled pork, pretzel rolls, onion jam and mac and cheese).
We couldn’t help but wonder how the kitchen staff could possibly put together these complicated trays from more than 75 individual items. “That’s gotta be some mis en place,” said my co-eater friend. In fact, Chef Paul Croshal has it down to a science, though it can get a little hectic during busy weekends, especially with more than 90% of the menu has to be made daily — and these aren’t simple dishes by a long shot. Showing off his culinary chops, Croshal makes nods to of-the-moment buzz eateries like Momofuku’s cereal milk and cookies (sugary corn flakes steeped in milk, then strained out, leaving only the deliciously sweet drink) on his menu.
One customer described the milk and cookies experience as, “The cereal milk must be made from rainbows and unicorn blood.”
Also on the dessert menu, a mini “Pie Party” of apple pie, lemon cream and chocolate cream with cornflake milk ice cream.
Keep in mind that they also have a selection of pre-planned sandwiches like the shrimp po’boy, Cuban pork sandwich and ratatouille sandwich ($10-$12) if you’re not up for the DIY experience. Beer and wine available.
Just go with curiosity, a sense of adventure and a few friends for the best experience. We’re pretty sure this is about the most fun you can have at a restaurant — and still be legal.
Stax SOcial Eatery: Open 11a.m. to, well, whenever o’clock Tuesday through Sunday. 8204 Old Redwood Hwy, Cotati, staxsocialeatery.com.