Get the stick.
Cross bikes rock.
Took my cross bike on some technical, steep MTB trails on the weekend. I was really surprised at how well it performed. I was running it single speed, but even with only one gear, I still cleaned most of the climbs. Passed more than a few MTB'ers as well. I think with deraileurs, this thing would not give up much to a mountain bike. You do have to be more carefull when you pick a line, but increased agility pays off when the trail opens up. In the twisty tight stuff, I could carry a lot more speed without clipping my bars all the time. When I got back on the road, it was way happier than my MTB-made my mountain bike feel like a truck compared to a sports car. Fun!
One more thing...for me, inline brake levers are not optional. No way I could have safely ridden some of the downhills without them.
I'll tell you why I think cross bikes rock. I just had to can a new set of 700x32 mm Panaracer Tourguard tires because the compliant, gummy sidewalls just weren't up to all the gravel and rocks that washed out onto the shoulders in SoCal this winter. Both the front and rear were gone to sidewall cuts before the flippin' casting imperfections had worn off the tread. what to do? I just threw on some meaty, beefy, big and bouncy no name 38mm street tires I had lying around. They laugh at broken pavement, frost heaves, the aforementioned rocks and gravel as well as road kill up to 15 lbs. With a normal road bike I'd still be looking for a smaller tire that could take it.