Throw a stone in Philadelphia and you’re likely to hit a Stephen Starr eatery–the man’s set up shop everywhere. In 2011 alone, he debuted Talula’s Garden (Washington Square), Frankford Hall (Fishtown) and Il Pittore (Rittenhouse Square). Love him or hate him (the jury’s still out for some), he’s a savvy restaurateur and somewhat of a culinary savant–he always seems to know exactly what Philadelphia wants and needs. Whether or not he knows how to execute it properly is debatable and therein lies the problem with his new Broad Street venture Route 6.
Named for the famed New England highway that runs from Provincetown, Massachusetts to that playground of the wealthy Cape Cod, Route 6 brings classic coastal cuisine to the burgeoning dining landscape of once-barren North Broad Street. The décor–whitewashed woods, floor-to-ceiling glass cases filled with Pottery Barn-esque tchotchkes and a glowing fireplace–helps create the notion that you’ve somehow landed in one of those quaint roadside seafood shacks that ubiquitously grace the New England coast. Starr stays true to theme with a traditional menu of dishes like fried Ipswich clams, johnny cakes and, of course, a Maine lobster roll. In theory, all of the elements Starr has set into motion should work–should being the operative word.
Unfortunately, Route 6 takes its first misstep by adding too much of an odd-tasting binder to its crabcake–giving it a bready, mushy feel–which, incidentally, are two words you never want to associate with a crabcake or anything that’s edible, really. The johnny cakes are underwhelming and accompanied by a maple-bourbon butter that tastes more of Maker’s Mark than maple or butter; the fried clams, however, offer a glimmer of hope in all their crunchy glory with a tasty housemade tartar sauce. Sweet, perfectly plump diver scallops are served in a flavorful puddle of Meyer lemon and herb broth, but the addition of calamari seems unncessary and extraneous and muddles an otherwise lovely dish.
While Starr’s efforts are well-intended, the gaffe seems to be in execution–a sad reminder how far Philadelphia really is from New England.
photo: courtesy of uwishunu