I don’t know exactly what decor I was expecting to find at an Asian cafe called Stix (presumably a play on chopsticks), but it definitely wasn’t a poster of Buffalo wings. Bathed in an orangey sauce, the chicken crowds a white plate against a red backdrop, velvety leaves of what appear to be oregano tucked in the center of the pile like a corsage. There it hangs, Getty-Image-as-art on a citron-yellow wall, next to a sign advertising available quantities (six, 15, 25) and flavors (Buffalo, Asian barbecue, garlic Parm, “bang bang”). I tried the second. Glazed in a sugary-gingered slime, they made me want to bang bang my head against the wall.
I can’t speak to the other styles of wings at Stix.Takeout shops bloating their menus with America’s favorite empty calories is nothing new, but I guess I expected more from this six-month-old, which sports cheery good looks, a friendly (if easily weeded) staff and a robust bubble-tea and smoothie bar — a proud point of differentiation for chef/owner John Man, a Drexel-bred electrical engineer who got into the restaurant game after his I.T. job was outsourced. Milky and floral, his jasmine bubble tea is unmatched in Philly, worth a special detour to Stix’s lightly trafficked block of Fitzwater. And if you spend more than $20, it’s free. (They’re also very generous with the wax-paper sacks of buttery almond cookies.)
Stix is a return to the family business, so to speak, for Man, 47; his father ran a Chinese takeout shop in North Philly after emigrating from Hong Kong and still makes some of the more old-school items on Stix’s menu, like sweet-and-sour shrimp that gets its sour from vinegar and sweet from a top-secret ingredient. Too bad the 6-cent crustaceans were rubbery. Better to stick with the lovely dumplings, whether thick dough clamshells filled with sesame-and-cilantro-laced pork and steamed, or smaller chicken versions simmered in an ethereal chicken soup whose clarity bordered on consommé.
Notes of lemongrass and fish sauce lit up grilled pork in the fine banh mi. The meat was saucier and the roll softer and moister than that of your typical Washington Avenue hoagie, really giving Stix’s a different vibe through the familiar crunch of raw jalapenos and pickled carrots, cucumbers and daikon. There’s a cheesesteak banh mi as well, but even I wouldn’t touch that one.
STIX | 1225 Fitzwater St., 215-735-1317, stixeatery.com. Hours: Sun.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Appetizers, $1.95-$5.45; entrees, $5.75-$6.95; desserts, $1.