Thursday, May 31, 2012

Route 6

Either Craig Laban is an idiot, or Route 6 has seriously gotten their act together in the kitchen. His review in the Inqy a few weeks back was not flattering. His advice was to stick to appetizers, then maybe head around the corner to Alla Spina or Osteria for dinner. I tend to believe what the man writes though, so something of a small miracle must have taken place in the back of the house here. 

On a recent trip for dinner (all expenses paid by my company, thankfully), we had a pretty fabulous meal. As Laban points out, the appetizers are all extremely well prepared. A deft touch with crabby deviled eggs, perfectly shucked oysters still floating in their briney liquor, and a bluefish dip that is unlike anything I've ever had. But the entrees were equally good. My grilled porgie (when's the last time you even saw that on a menu) was nicely charred and falling off the bone. Equally good was the red snapper. The lobster roll, a bit pricey at $25, was delicious enough to inspire a drive to New England for a taste of the real thing. 

bluefish dip
The smoked bluefish dip, shredded bits of fish in a horseradish creme fraiche sauce, served with bagel chips on the side - just order extra chips at the start, you're going to need them. It's a strong flavored dip, so you don't need to pile it on. Incredibly smokey and savory, I've never tasted anything quite like it. Bluefish is a pretty unique specimen, locally sourced and not available in most of the rest of the world. It's oily, like mackerel, so it grills up well. It is certainly not light and flaky though. The bagel chips are an odd pairing, but the slight saltiness seems to go really well with the dip. One of my favorite dishes of the night. 

The raw bar is probably the biggest strength of Route 6, as it should be. Any fish house worth it's gills this close to the coast better have oysters shucked proper, meaty shrimp, and a good selection of clams. They bring it up a notch with a whole half lobster - a bargain at $15. 

White Birch Route 6 ESB

Nicely thought out list of beers on tap. Mostly from New England; Allagash, White Birch, Cisco Cottrell, Southern Tier, and of course some Yards to throw a little love at Philly. Bottle list is similar with a strong showing from the northeast - Long Trail, Harpoon, Saranac, Ithaca Brewing, etc. Can't go wrong with any of the above, and the bartender was more than helpful in sampling a few and leading me to the right brew. 

crab deviled eggs
A classic done right. Following my pension for all things Mad Men and 60's inspired, deviled eggs have quickly become one of my favorite bar foods. These follow the classic recipe with dijon and mayo, whipped yolks and a sprinkling of paprika.  Fold in some chunks of crab though, and you're on a different level. These would make Don Draper proud. 

lobster roll
The fabulous lobster roll. Huge hunks of lobster meat, dressed up with just enough mayo and stuffed into a buttered split top roll. I don't know why cutting the roll this way makes the thing taste better, but it just does. It's science. Don't ignore the fries, they are hand cut, perfectly cooked (crispy on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside) and served in a little bucket. There's not enough foods being served in buckets these days. 

buttermilk fried oysters
The fried oysters, served with an even smaller bucket (I'm liking this theme) containing a lemon wedge and the smallest bottle of Tobasco you've ever seen. Adorable. Super crunchy, golden crust surrounding the delicate oysters within, atop a shell full of tartar sauce and balanced on a bed of sea salt to keep them from rocking around in the pan. These were excellent nuggets of fried perfection. I could eat a dozen. 

softshell sliders
Probably my favorite dish, the softshell sliders were fantastic. Light and flaky battered crabs, on a fresh baked slider roll with lettuce, tomato and more of that house made tartar sauce. They are crunchy and savory, salty and a little sweet, richly flavored and yet not heavy at all. It is the perfect time of year for soft shells, and Route 6 hit it out of the park with their version. 

grilled, whole porgy
The picture doesn't do it justice, but the whole grilled porgie special was a beauty. Porgie, also known as sparidea, are bottom dwellers with plenty of light and tender meat.  Route 6 grills it whole, with a nice char and just a lemon wedge as garnish. You won't need much else though. This was a delicate fish, tons of flavor, and after all the appetizers I was almost uncomfortably full after polishing this off. 

coconut custard pie
Even after coming to term with a full on seafood baby, there's always room for some coconut custard pie. I was so excited to see this on the menu. Takes me back to my roots and the ubiquitous South Jersey diner, where they would make their 8" tall version that hit the spot after a late night movie and a case of munchies. A sweet graham cracker crust and a dense, luscious coconut filling, topped with fresh whipped cream hits all the right notes. A smear of chocolate ganache on the plate and some toasted coconut sprinkled on top makes it sing. 

A meal at Route 6 is going to be about sharing. A menu chocked full of appetizer size portions that are suited for getting a taste of everything. It's not a cheap destination, by any means, but it's on par with other Starr locations. Dinner for 4, with drinks, came out to around $350 with tax & tip. It's a large space, and sitting in the outer ring can feel a bit Disney-esque with all the nautical themed chachkies on the walls. The interior section though is airy and light, thanks to the large sky lights, and feels like you're down the shore. Thanks to the solid menu, it tastes like it, too. 

Food Baby Rating: Twins!

Route 6
600 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Monday-Thursday: 5-10pm
Friday-Saturday: 5-11pm
Sunday brunch: 10:30-3pm; dinner 4:30-9:30

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Bit of a hiatus the last couple weeks due to some personal matters that had to be attended too. Sadly, my lovely Grandmom Peggy passed away, leaving a gaping void in a lot of hearts. She was an incredibly sweet and generous woman, who loved to cook, eat, and was a fan of this little blog. I will miss her terribly. Thanks to her and my Grandpop, we were able to travel to Thailand for our honeymoon, using their timeshare for our week in Ao Nang. An experience of a lifetime that vastly expanded my culinary horizon, and instilling in me an even deeper love for travel. 

Every time we make Thai food at home or seek out the latest greatest takeout spot for green curry, I think back to our amazing trip there, and ultimately of the people that made it happen for us. Thank you, Grandmom Peggy, for everything you've done for us. Hope you're eating well, wherever you are. Love you. 


Ok, onto the food and my new favorite Thai place. Circles has been open for over a year now, but buried deep in south Philly (15th & Tasker) it's not exactly getting a lot of foot traffic. After a Craig Laban review a few months back, the place has been receiving considerable buzz, and it's well earned. 

Don't let the team of round eye servers fool you. The kitchen staff are off the boat from Thailand, and they have brought the flavors of their country with them. When the servers ask if you want it "Thai hot", be wary. This is not the dumbed down version of spicy you get at a normal Asian restaurant that thinks you can't handle the real stuff. You will have steam shooting out of your ears by the end of the meal. But you can't stop yourself from practically inhaling the perfect rice noodles, and brightly flavored beef salad that's placed before you. 

The spring rolls were crisp and without a hint of grease. Filled with a nice mix of cabbage, carrot, bean sprouts and optional chicken, they were nearly as good as the ones we made during our class at BaiPai cooking school. A sweet plum sauce for dipping on the side and you've got a perfect appetizer. Some of the best I've had in Philly. 

chicken spring rolls w/ plum sauce

The essential beef salad, served "Thai hot" and tasting of the bright flavors of lime, cilantro, mint and scallions. This instantly brought me back to dinner on the beach in Ao Nang. Those utterly unique tastes each shine through on their own, but become an incredible symphony when conducted properly. Your taste buds will be singing, while your lips are tingling. 

thai beef salad

The star of the show and the measuring stick for any good Thai place is their Pad Kee Mow. This is the best version I've had in the US. Paper thin slices of pork, hunks of broccoli, julienned carrots, sliced peppers, mixed with super wide rice noodles, all soaking up an incredibly flavorful garlic-y sauce. Mix in a very healthy portion of spicy peppers and some fresh basil and it's like you're eating on the streets of Bangkok, just with better hygiene. Absolutely incredible. 

pad kee mow w/ sliced pork

By the end of the meal, with the chili sweats in full force, we needed a cool down. A tall glass of Thai iced tea (basically black tea with some spices, sugar & milk) helps more than the ketchup and mustard for Harry & Lloyd. This is one of those meals that you can't stop eating, even though your mouth is on fire, reminiscent of the best stuff at Han Dynasty

thai iced tea - you're going to need this

Lucky for us, they are opening a second location right on 2nd street in Northern Liberties. I've been working on my own Thai recipes at home, but with food this good down the street from us, it'll be hard not to pick up the phone for take out. The new location is scheduled to be open in late May or early June, according to the waitstaff at the South Philly locale. Can't come soon enough for me. 

Food Baby Rating:  Triplets!

Circles - Contemporary Asian Cuisine
1514 Tasker Street
Philadelphia, PA
267-687-1778 (take-out or delivery)