In the past few years--specifically, since Hurricane Sandy--the food and drink scene around the Financial District has seen some drastic changes, and a number of excellent bars and restaurants have opened up and thrived. Recently, we had a chance to check out neighborhood newcomer Route 66 Smokehouse, and we were definitely excited about what we saw.
Walking into the restaurant, you’re hit immediately with the rustic aesthetic of a down-home tavern. On both floors, there are old highway and drug store Coca-Cola signs, ropes and pulleys on the wall, and a bar made from reclaimed Wisconsin wood beams, all cast in a warm glow from exposed bulb light fixtures hanging overhead. The decor had all of the warm, cozy nostalgia of familiar American tropes, while also looking polished and well put together. The food reflects that same motif: Route 66 explores and embraces regional American cuisine, serving up refined interpretations of traditional comfort dishes. The menu reads like a tour of classic epicurian Americana, re-visited by Executive Chef Billy Kooper, a former Blue Smoke sous chef. Chef Kooper also brings his unique food philosophy to his ingredients, hand-selecting local, seasonal items from artisanal vendors and small family farms. In this way, he says, he is able to showcase the people and products “who truly comprise the foundations of regionally localized American cuisine.”
Kooper’s devotion to the foundations--as well as skillful innovations on them-- pays off in the dishes he creates. The small plates are all easily recognizable but certainly spruced up. Devilled Eggs were brightened up with arugula, micro celery, and lemon vinaigrette, while large slices of Fried Green Tomatoes--spiced with crispy Jalapeno Bottle Caps--were paired well with a house-made Buttermilk Ranch Dressing. Even the seemingly simple Classic Pimento Cheese was served with absurdly good melt-in-your-mouth Pretzel Sticks, warm and buttery and fresh from the oven. As we moved on to the main course, we continued to be impressed. The Fried Quail and Waffle was an inspired interpretation of the traditional Chicken and Waffles, using the tender, darker meat of the quail to blend with the savory smokiness of thick-slab bacon and the sweetness of the waffle and the accompanying Truffle Honey. As we watched other patrons try various other entrees (like the St. Louis Dry-Rub Ribs and the Shrimp and Grits), it was clear that nothing on the menu was disappointing. The accompanying sides are also notable, offering interesting recipes using traditional ingredients, such as the Mac & Cheese Jalapeno Cornbread, the Hearty Kale with Croutons, Citrus, Cured White Anchovies, and Creamy Parmigiano, and our favorite, the signature Bourbon Sweeties (mashed sweet potatoes with a Bourbon-mash twist).
Though the food is good, it isn’t the only reason to come to Route 66. The Whiskey List has over 70 selections, and, like the menu, is centered around American whiskeys, particularly small craft whiskeys. If you’re not a whiskey drinker, the excellent cocktail program and 21-Tap 100% craft beer list--as well as obscure regional sodas like Cheerwine and Dad’s Root Beer-- ensures that there’s something for everyone.
You can find Route 66 Smokehouse at 46 Stone St, New York, NY.