Thanks to a bout of insomnia, Stax Wine Bar & Bistro has stacked up a new vibe on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero.
Owner Giovanni DeGarimore (who also operates Giovanni’s Fish Market & Galley a few doors down) was tossing and turning one night, trying to decide what to do with a vacant building toward the northern end of the Embarcadero.
He recalled that “up until 3 a.m. it was going to be a burger joint, but then it hit me, and by 3:30 it was going to be a wine bar! I wanted a place where you could relax with a nice glass of wine without having a full-on dinner, and maybe listen to some live music a couple nights a week.”
After only 37 days of extensive remodeling, Stax opened in December 2010. With its rich wood floors, cozy gas fireplace and creative custom cabinets for wine storage, it definitely brought a whole new look to what had been a longtime curio shop.
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Patrons can settle into a couple of leather couches, sit atop stools at several high-top tables, or snag a seat at the bar. Thanks to a floor-to-ceiling window on the north side of the building, pretty much every seat in the house enjoys a picturesque view of Morro Rock.
The wine lineup at Stax is “predominantly Central Coast — from Monterey to Paso Robles to Santa Barbara,” explained manager Anneline Van Benthem. “We see ourselves as a gateway to local wine tasting, and when visitors from San Francisco, Los Angeles or from out of the country come here, they’re not really interested in Napa wines. They want to taste local.”
From there, the approach is to have some familiar labels, but to also “introduce people to different wines and to up-and-coming winemakers who are producing some fantastic wines,” she explained.
You can always pick out a bottle from the cabinets, but it’s especially fun to check out the wines featured on the tasting menu. The list changes every week, but recently showcased Curran Grenache Blanc (a white Rhône wine) from Santa Ynez, Bodegas Tempranillo (a red Spanish varietal) from Paso Robles, and Radog Pinot Noir from Monterey.
The bistro menu at Stax uncorks a good variety, including a couple of salads and several crostini and panini. The crostini can be topped with everything from grilled-to-order filet mignon to Portobello mushrooms, panini picks can comprise Italian meats or grilled veggies, and salad options are either a Caesar wedge with Spanish white anchovy or acaprese with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.
There are also several other items to choose from, such as a prawn cocktail with house-made cocktail sauce, a plate of gourmet lox and bagels, or a selection of imported olives.
Of course, being a wine bar, Stax offers cheese plates with temptations like triple cream brie and aged gouda, and plates with Italian prosciutto, Italian salame, Spanish chorizo and smoked duck breast.
The weekly specials extend to wine and food pairings as well, such as a Henry’s Drive Reserve Shiraz (a red Rhône, aka syrah) matched up with grilled lamb sliders served alongside truffled seasoned pommes frites. Often though, the special focuses on fish, not surprising given DeGarimore’s seafood expertise and accessibility.
“We have the docks right here, and we’ll serve whatever’s available locally — calamari, rock cod, halibut, Dungeness, salmon and our local oysters,” he said. “Switching up the specials is also nice for the locals — they can come in and experience something new every week.”
DeGarimore noted that locals have indeed embraced the Stax concept, “and to them we say ‘thank you, thank you, thank you!’ ”
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at email@example.com.