@credit:Andre Samoilov Restaurant Review: Big surprise at the Little Store

Publication Date: Friday May 7, 1999

Restaurant Review: Big surprise at the Little Store

A 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 

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