Bells and whistles elevate firehouse fare
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The fire pole hole at 438 Massachusetts Ave. NW is plated over with nickel.
Hoping to salute their building’s past without resorting to cliches, however, the five guys behind Sixth Engine kept the exposed brick walls, soaring windows and rafters of the historic fire station that preceded their new restaurant in Mount Vernon Square.
Co-owner Jeremy Carman even managed to sneak in a personal effect: the dog running alongside a ruddy firefighter in the Norman Rockwell-esque painting on the loftlike second floor. Turns out the canine is the restaurateur’s lab-hound mix, Trudy.
Sixth Engine’s menu, from chef and co-owner Paul Madrid, takes a pleasant detour from standard-issue neighborhood American restaurant cooking. While diners will find a cheese plate and a cheeseburger, those staples are joined by lamb shank ravioli dappled with minty gremolata butter and grilled shrimp poised on orzo and a pool of Parmesan sauce. As for starters, a hedge of bright green broccoli festooned with grated cheddar and minced red onion and bacon is straight out of a Midwestern potluck party, but also easy to dispatch.
Four of the owners share a stake in Town Hall, a watering hole in Glover Park with the slogan “gulp, gather, grub.” But the 100 or so-seat Sixth Engine was designed to be “more restaurant-forward,” explains Carman. Indeed, some of the fancier plates in the new venue, which starts with a front patio and handsome blue bar, best the more familiar. (A hoagie stuffed with pork shoulder showed up desert-dry.)
The entree I’m most eager to try again partners red snapper with snappy andouille risotto and crisp, sweet corn. The fish gets some nice heat from a splash of chili-infused butter, but the fire is nothing a draught Guinness or Pimm’s Cup can’t put out.
We don't often get new bars in buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but that’s the case with Sixth Engine. Housed in the old Engine Company Number Six, built around 1860, it’s a two-story bar and restaurant that honors its former occupant with Norman Rockwell-inspired murals, old fire helmets and even a spot on the floor of the upstairs dining room that marks the place where the pole once stood. All prices have 6 cents tacked on as a nod to the location and to help fund free filtered water (sparkling or still) for all guests.
The first-floor bar feels preppy with its mix of exposed brick and deep blue walls, a white tile floor and lots of dark wood. It gets crowded on a Friday night, but it’s easy for people to spill over into the large booths in the dining room behind the bar area.
Run by the guys behind the Dubliner and Glover Park’s Town Hall, this is a tavern that caters to a slightly older crowd — one willing to pay a little more for a draft beer from Sixpoint or Ommegang (most beers are about $7 to $9), or a well-made cocktail. At just over $12 each, the cocktails are priced to compete with Buddha Bar across the street, and they’re pretty good: The Jalisco Razor Blade, a sharp mix of tequila, cayenne pepper and house-made agave syrup, and the sweet, full-bodied Road Runner (rye whiskey, applejack, elderflower liqueur, sweet vermouth and bitters) are the highlights.
In coming weeks, look for the kickoff of the “Locals and Lights” happy hour, with $3 light beers, $4 DC Brau and Lost Rhino pints, and $5 wines by the glass, which, unlike the other offerings, are neither local nor light.
-- Fritz Hahn (Feb. 22, 2012)