Acquiring its name from the highway that runs between Provincetown and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the Fairmount/Art Museum District's Route 6 honors the cuisine adored in small coastal towns from Kennebunkport Maine, to Chestertown Maryland. Presenting a menu that features fresh and seasonal sea-to-table fare with archetypical New England dishes such as clam chowder, lobster rolls, buttermilk fried oysters, daily catch lobster, and fresh whole fish. The atmosphere of Route 6’s decor will carry you away to the tranquil way of life inherent to the sleepy serene shores of the eastern seaside. Inside the establishment, a wood-burning oven and grill not only adds a distinct flavor to the food, but fills the dining room with the smell of oak and fruit notes. The chef's counter, which seats 20, is the perfect place to order oysters and clams from the raw bar, and take a view of the open kitchen.Read More ...
On a particularly scorching Monday evening with a daunting workweek staring me in the face and last weekend’s trip to the beach still positioned prominently in my memory, I think fondly back to the warm summer sun on my skin, the salty sea air flowing through my hair, and the course sand between my toes. Then my image of paradise quickly dissipates as I remember I’m back in my daily monotonous routine. Still wanting to cling to some remnants of the seashore, I decide that what I could really go for is some high quality seafood. Lucky for me, my fiancé and I find ourselves in the city’s Fairmont district where Stephen Starr brings us Route 6, a location that offers a collective sampling of beloved seafood classics from coastal towns up the eastern shore. Featuring all of the sunny nostalgia of summer vacation spots from Maine to Maryland, Route 6 offers outstanding seafood fare.
A hint of excitement hangs in the air as we walk down North Broad Street and approach Mount Vernon Street where hot new eateries are popping up left and right, contributing a buzz about the up-and-coming neighborhood. A stone’s throw from an Italian gastropub serving up local brews, Italian beers and pub fare, and around the corner from a longtime successful traditional Italian Osteria specializing in homemade pastas, thin crust pizzas, and wood grilled meats and fish, Route 6 is optimally positioned in the midst of some of the city’s noteworthy restaurants. The neighborhood is fast becoming a place to see and be seen with a hip, after work crowd in search of the next best happy hour location and a suburbanite mix making its way over on weekends.
Route 6 opened its doors in mid-November 2011 to join Starr’s ever-growing lineup of stellar Philadelphia restaurants. They join the ranks with Starr’s other recent addition, Il Pitore, as well as established Philadelphia staples like Butcher & Singer, The Continental, Buddakan, Morimoto, Parc and Barclay Prime.
The establishment claims its namesake from the actual Route 6, a scenic highway that runs from Provincetown, Mass. through the center of Cape Cod, with Starr drawing bits and pieces of inspiration from all the treasured vacation spots along the way. The food and décor are, however, not strictly New England. Plenty of homage is paid to shore towns as far south as Maryland and anywhere along the eastern seaboard from Martha’s Vineyard to the Jersey Shore.
While dinner and Sunday brunch, which features a combination of dinner menu favorites along with breakfast classics made from farm fresh eggs, is enough to get mouths salivating, other tempting specials run throughout the week as well. Happy hour, offered every weekday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. boasts a range of discounted appetizers, including cups of chowder, Bluefish Dip and Fried Oyster Sliders, as well as the usual mix of specialty cocktails, draft beers, and house wines.
The menu at Route 6 stirs up memories of by-the-sea crab shacks, oyster houses and fine dining seafood establishments along the eastern seaboard, but what stands out most about the food here is the way it is so simply prepared. Crab cakes lack an excessive amount of filler; lobster, clams and oysters are battered lightly and fried to a crunch without the overwhelming grease. And most dishes are absent of the unnecessary accompaniments that threaten to mask the fresh, natural taste that characterizes good sea fare. Diners can count on an approachable array of dependable classics here: lobster steamed, grilled, or baked; fritters, chowders, scallops, shrimp, Rainbow Trout, Red Snapper, and more.
The restaurant’s impressive raw bar, which offers a varied assortment of oysters and clams from the deep waters of New England to the Jersey Shore, continually produces neat little vignette served with tasty attachments like pickled shallots, lemon and sherry vinegar, which offer a light complement to each delicate, slightly chewy sampling. The raw bar also features an array of classics like chilled hunks of lobster, cracked crab and shrimp cocktail served with unique sauces like poached chili and grapefruit or green Tabasco aioli.
In the kitchen, Executive Chef Seth High brings a little bit of everything to the table when it comes to experience. He’s cooked up Italian delights in kitchens in South Florida and New York City, dabbled in French cuisine in New Orleans, and even lent his talents to the stars when he joined the crew that debuted Eva Longoria’s Latin steakhouse in Los Angeles. High was brought up on whole grains, organic foods, and herbs and veggies straight from the garden, which is perhaps the reason he is able to grasp the essence of fresh at Route 6 despite such an eclectic culinary background.
Not to say that, however, there aren’t a few twists on tradition here and there at Route 6. In fact, there are plenty of instances where High gets creative with the classics, such as the Crab Deviled Eggs and Chicken Fried Lobster.
Landlubbers have plenty to nosh on, too, including classic salads like fresh Jersey tomato with basil, extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic, Grilled Filet Mignon with smoked pepper butter and watercress salad, and staples like the Cheeseburger with oven roasted tomato, Louie dressing and house fries, or Our Fried Chicken — boneless thigh and breast meat with bacon gravy, house fries and coleslaw — not to mention a dessert menu chock full of tasty-sounding pies and cobblers that are baked fresh daily and seafood free.
The beverage list is impressive in its own right, exhibiting a total of 20 different bottled beers and six beers on tap. The restaurant features the specially created Route 6 Ale, an unfiltered Rye ESB created by White Birch Brewing out of New Hampshire. The list also features a range of 40 wines by the bottle and glass, mostly meant to complement the array of fish and other seafood specialties on the menu. Our eyes graze an eclectic collection of bottles from vineyards around the world: California reds from the vineyards of Nappa Valley, whites from Oregon, to Argentina and Germany, and sparkling selections primarily from France. There is also a wide selection of specialty cocktails that often change from season to season for the freshest ingredients. Here we find dependable classics like Bloody Mary — Smirnoff vodka and tomato served with fresh horseradish, Tabasco and pickled oyster — and attention-grabbing items like the refreshing Black-Eyed Susan featuring 42 Below Vodka, Silver Rum, Cointreau and fresh lime and pineapple juice, and the appropriately named Cape Codder with Stolichnaya Vodka and cranberry ginger compote.
As we come upon the flowery front entrance to the restaurant, we catch a glimpse of the outside dining area immediately to the right of the large, black doors to the main entryway. This quaint seating area hosts half a dozen wooden picnic tables reminiscent of the seating that’s found at a sunny, casual crab shack at the shore. The décor is accented with chalkboards detailing happy hour specials, exposed brick, plenty of greenery and large, round lighting fixtures that hang overhead. The vibe outside is fun and relaxed.
Inside, the sprawling main dining room is open and airy with loads of natural sunlight pouring in through a massive skylight that sits not far from the entrance. The sunshine highlights details that make the décor at Route 6 a sight to see: gleaming hardwood floors, reclaimed wooden fixtures, smooth, black tabletops each equipped with its own bucket of tools necessary to crack open a good shellfish, white chairs with wicker accents and floor-to-ceiling cabinets bedecked with seaworthy knickknacks.
A brick front fireplace sits beneath a chalkboard detailing the night’s freshly caught specials, and anchors the main dining room with a smaller, dimly lit room with long tables to accommodate larger parties, as well as comfy, high backed booths, and low hanging lighting fixtures for more intimate gatherings. A spectacular, long lighting fixture adorned with bubble-shaped bulbs sheds enough light for reading more of the chalkboards, which are strewn about the brick walls.
We’re seated near the back of the restaurant in the main dining room where the main attraction sits just a few feet away. I gaze at the open kitchen displaying a robust fire from a wood-burning stove that releases tantalizing aromas of oak and fruit woods into the restaurant. Diners lucky enough to catch a seat at the chef’s counter, a glossy table mounted against brick and surrounded by leather chairs, are able to snag an up close peek at the variety of sights, sound and smell that emanate from the place where the chefs at Route 6 work their magic.
The raised bar and lounge area sits to our left. The brick, sleek-topped bar is decorated with shining brass lamps and surrounded by tall, handsome leather chairs. A comfortable lounge area sits directly next to the bar, and features a long, L-shaped booth lined with blue and white striped pillows, small wooden tables and wicker chairs for a nautical touch.
A somewhat casually dressed, but well put together wait staff easily works the room garbed in blue jeans and long white aprons. Bouncy summer tunes float effortlessly about, and a stylishly dressed crowd chatters softly all around us. These details combine for an atmosphere that is relaxed with a touch of elegance.
Once we take our seats, our server, Molly, welcomes us with a concise run down of the menu and presents complimentary jars of oyster crackers and horseradish. We dive in, supplying each thick and slightly salted cracker with a generous layer of the spicy horseradish. It’s a mouthful that’s a welcome change from your typical restaurant bread in a basket.
Our meal continues with a vignette of Oyster shooters from the raw bar. The first oyster we sample is a Permaquid that our server tells us is from deep waters of the Damariscotta River in Maine. We toss back the brown-and-white shells to find a light, lemony juice around a firm oyster. The briny Cape May Salt hails from the waters of the Jersey Shore, bearing a saltier, more robust flavor.
Our parade of appetizers begins with the Ipswich Clams, a New England soft shell fried crisp and served with a creamy house tartar sauce. The shellfish in this dish are dredged in a buttermilk batter and then flash fried so that the outer crust is light and fluffy with a delicate crunch, giving way to the smooth, not-too-chewy clam in the center.
The next appetizer, Chicken Fried Lobster Tails, is the restaurant’s signature dish, Molly explains. As we take in the rich, oceanic aroma of the lobster and note the gorgeous golden brown color and rigid texture of its thick coat, we quickly figure out why this dish is special. Generous hunks of sweet and delicate lobster meat are fried to a similar crunch that people expect from an exceptionally irresistible fried chicken platter, except without an excessive amount of grease. Each time we sink our teeth into a crisply fried piece, we find abundantly juicy meat, making the dish altogether succulent. We hungrily dip whole tails into a zesty green Tabasco aioli sauce, which provides a nice kick with slight hints of garlic. This is a fun and unique way to get a lobster on the table, which my fiancé and I, of course, eat right up.
Next, Molly totes a long white dish to our table that presents four brilliant yellow deviled eggs with a healthy dusting of bright red paprika and a green garnish on top. These appear to resemble the classic American picnic food, but one bite proves that these Crab Deviled Eggs are much more. The dish is spot on when it comes to the tastes and textures of the traditional recipe it mimics, but a pleasant surprise comes in the form of chunks of lump Blue Crab meat. Mixed into the traditionally creamy combo of egg yolk, mustard and mayo, the meat is thick and rich so that the mixture is altogether velvety in taste and texture.
Molly arrives with a serving of the Smoked Bluefish Dip atop a thick wooden slate. She explains to mix the flaky pieces of smoked bluefish and a zesty horseradish crème fraiche in the jar with a small lobster-shaped silver spoon to create a fresh, silky concoction. A crisp collection of round, golden bagel chips are splayed out next to the jar of dip, which really make the dish stand out for the contrast of the creamy and cool, smoky-flavored dip against the clean crunch of the thin chips.
We notice the hot, steaming bowl of classic New England Clam Chowder before Molly even gets it to our table because of the rich, buttery seafood aroma that fills the air around it. The soup is served in a large white bowl next to a smaller one that holds a handful of sturdy oyster crackers, which we crumple into the luscious cream-based broth for a tasty contrast of crunchy and smooth. Through liberal slurps, we find that flecks of fresh clam offer a very slight chew here and there throughout the dish.
The Crab Cake, broiled Maryland style and served with fresh coleslaw and lemon, stands out because of how evident the crab is. Unlike many renditions of the traditional crab cake, there is no overwhelming filler in the mix. In fact, we decide (and Molly later confirms) that there is probably just enough filler to hold the meaty pieces of lump crabmeat together. Through bites into the slightly crisp outer crust, we can really taste the hunks of creamy, robust meat, which bears a little bit of a spicy heat. A squeeze of lemon overtop with a forkful of slaw enlivens the dish with tangy hints of tart and citrus.
Molly explains that our next dish, the Lobster Roll, pays homage to New England because of the buttered split top roll it’s served in. This dish features generous chunks of lobster dressed in a light, mayonnaise-based mixture closely resembling the slightly salty and garlicky tastes of lobster salad. Lobster is picked fresh for this dish and steamed so the meat is juicy, then tossed in a blend that includes mayonnaise, lemon, chives and salt for a light dressing to accentuate the sweetness of the lobster. The split-top bun stands out for being lightly toasted, and oh so buttery smooth. As Molly continues on with helpful information about this New England tradition, our mouths are too full with the slightly salty, slightly spicy and crunchy Old Bay fries that come on the side to participate in the conversation.
Between bites of the delectable display of main dishes, we’re repeatedly drawn to mouthfuls of brightly colored corn on the cob, which glows a brilliant yellow in contrast to the simple white plate it sits atop. Brushed lightly with lime butter, the corn is grilled to absolute perfection, as each bite full of kernels yields warm, sweet bursts of juice we have to stop from running down our chins with napkins.
A picture perfect slice of apple pie arrives first for dessert, piquing our interest with the wonderfully familiar aroma of apples mixed with cinnamon. The pie, a thin, flaky pastry with a savory and spicy apple filling, sits prettily next to a round scoop of classic vanilla ice cream. A lovely surprise is the crumbly and spicy mixture that sits beneath the ice cream. Each component swirls together as the sweet cream begins to melt against the warm pie slice, melding into a velvety and delicious take on a timeless American dessert.
Served piping hot, the Chocolate Bread Pudding gives off wafts of steam and a robust scent of chocolate mixed with light notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s drizzled copiously with a thick bourbon caramel sauce and topped with a round of banana ice cream that’s melted just slightly. Even though we’re full, we can’t stop heaping spoonfuls of the sultry, smooth mixture from entering our mouths. The deep chocolate flavor stands out most in this dish, and the bready and creamy textures of the pudding and ice cream create a seriously sinful combination.
Stuffed, we sit back as the skylight allows the faint bluish glow of dusk to creep into the restaurant. The soft chatter floating about heats up with the arrival of a new wave of diners, and we begin to toss around jovial recollections of the coastal childhood summer vacations, memories that were dormant until the atmosphere at Route 6 shook them back to life. As the evening gives way to a starry summer night, my fiancé and I agree that we can wait patiently for the next weekend beach trip now that we’ve experienced all that Route 6 has to offer.
Insider Tip: For a top-notch lobster at a discounted price, get to Route 6 on Monday nights from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The restaurant’s ongoing “Lobster Monday” special features a three-course dinner, including a juicy, 1 ¼ pound lobster entrée, for one low price per person. Make sure you make a reservation, seats fill up fast when the catch is this good.
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From the crab deviled eggs to the blueberry beer to the shrimp n pasta, everything was delicious!!!