Publication Date: Friday May 7, 1999
Restaurant Review: Big surprise at the Little StoreA new Woodside eatery inherits much of the rustic charm of the spot's former incarnations
by Ruth Schechter
Woodside's Little Store certainly looks like it's been around for a while. Hard by Woodside Road, just past the main intersection of town, the 7-month-old eatery has a settled-in facade and a cozy, worn-around-the-edges appeal that rustles up images of watering holes in the more desolate stretches of the heartland. Of course, the truth is that Little Store has been around for quite a while. Built in 1902, the place is a historic landmark. It's been a general store and restaurant for most of its tenure, with a short stint in the early 1960s as a gas station. It was turned into a casual burger joint in the 1970s, and several items on the menu reflect that legacy. So's the staff: One waitress' mother was a Little Store server herself 24 years ago.
It's the little touches that make it appear that the newest incarnation of the Little Store has wriggled comfortably into its site. A rusting steel sculpture pokes out of the postage stamp-sized flower garden out front, and a bulletin board holds tacked-on fliers advertising housing, housekeepers and horses. A side parking lot fills up quickly at lunch with dinged pickup trucks and sporty convertibles--a pretty fair representation of the town of Woodside itself.
Inside, Little Store--and it is little--emanates an aw-shucks rustic charm, from the lumberyard-scrap siding to the real saddles on posts lined up in front of the counter. (The kids just love to climb on these, but I wouldn't be caught dead straddling one as I ate.) Framed soccer uniforms add a sporty touch, and an unnecessary TV in the corner appears to be locked onto the sports channel. Wire baskets on the tabletops are filled with all the fixings: ketchup, mustard, salsa, Tabasco sauce. It's a relaxed spot, an offbeat hangout that's a distant cousin to the chic, streamlined hot spots that abound these days.
The emphasis at Little Store is on simple, all-American favorites, with a bit of Tex-Mex thrown in for good measure. It's a place for mashed potatoes, meat loaf, milkshakes and french fries. Lunch features six varieties of hamburgers that come in beef, turkey or vegetarian versions; fish and chips; burritos and tacos; and several kinds of salad. Dinner includes more of the same, along with somewhat more elaborate sandwich concoctions, such as open-face roast turkey ($7.23) and entrees like Southern fried chicken ($9.85).
The 10 tables fill up quickly at lunchtime with a classic Woodside clientele: couples in jodhpurs, executives in suits and the kind of casually dressed people who linger at other quiet spots on the Peninsula, leaving you to wonder what they do for a living. With kids plates priced at $3.59, the place is also popular with parents weary of fast food.
The menu is a pleasant diversion itself, sprinkled with colorful fruit and vegetable shipping labels and brief, sometimes amusing, descriptions of the offerings. The warm Napa cabbage salad ($7.89) is a winner, loaded with chunks of chicken, bacon and bleu cheese and drizzled with a tangy house vinaigrette. The Manzanita ($6.62) is a hefty burger (vegetarian in our case), served with ho-hum guacamole and sharp Jack cheese. Add a side of addictive fries (99 cents with the burger or $2.68 for a heaping basket big enough for four), and you've got a tasty and satisfying no-frills meal.
The marinated skirt steak ($11.97) is fabulous--a potent wash of powerful teriyaki flavors tempered with silky mashed potatoes and crisp onion rings. Our only letdown was the Southwestern chicken quesadilla ($5.92). Though the ingredients were pretty standard and certainly fresh, the chicken was drenched in what appeared to be hickory-style barbecue sauce. A weird combination that didn't quite cut it.
Don't overlook the treats. Ice cream is the focus, complete with soda fountain specialties like banana splits and hot fudge sundaes. Milkshakes ($2.97-$3.69) are huge, thick and worth the drive up the hill. Warm apple-cranberry crisp ($4.61) is a taste from grandma's farmhouse kitchen--the one we all wished we had, anyway.
There's also a nice selection for breakfast on Saturday, including eggs Benedict ($6.65), potato scramble ($5.65), granola ($3.78) and French toast ($5.95). And I couldn't think of a nicer place to start a morning.
Little Store is loaded with character. Manager Antonio Pena makes an effort to greet customers by name and imparts a sense of neighborly warmth. Though the menu includes many simple winners, the real draw is the place's disarming charm.
The Little Store, 3340 Woodside Road, Woodside, 851-8110
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday.
Atmosphere: A state historic landmark, the restaurant emanates old-fashioned charm.
Highlights: Terrific burgers, teriyaki skirt steak, ice cream parlor concoctions.
About the owner: Greg St. Claire, who also owns Nola in Palo Alto, Mistral in Redwood Shores and A Tavola in San Carlos, grew up in Woodside. Credit cards: yes Parking: yes Beer and wine: yes Takeout: yes Banquet: no Wheelchair accessible: yes Non-smoking: yes Highchairs: yes Outdoor seating: yes