May 30, 2013 | by Jonathan Howard
Back to the basics
Sixth Engine, Restaurant, Washington Blade, Gay News

(Photo courtesy Sixth Engine)

Occasionally even the snobbiest of food snobs have a day when they just want a burger. Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying then the basics.

This is how I was feeling one evening as we were headed to Art and Soul to enjoy another amazing meal, but really all I wanted was a burger. As we were in the car headed to dinner we drove past Sixth Engine (438 Massachusetts Ave NW) and in front of this firehouse-turned-restaurant were several people eating what looked like delicious burgers. I immediately decided this would be the next place I would review, a spot where I could go back to basics.

Engine Co. No. 6 is one of the oldest firehouses in the District, built in 1855 for the Metropolitan Hook and Ladder Company. The original MHL insignia still appears above the entrance to the bistro. Sixth Engine was born from the “fire” in the bellies of five long time friends and D.C. restaurateurs: Jeremy Carman, Gavin Coleman, Paul Holder, Paul Madrid and Tim Walsh. The owners loved the building and worked hard to preserve its charm and history and meld it all beautifully within a functioning restaurant, one of their greatest successes overall.

Four friends and I arrived on a warm Tuesday evening. I was still craving comfort food and was excited to order just that. However, while the entrée menu reads like a twist on a tavern, the appetizers are a bit more lavish. We all ordered different entrees as well as a few appetizers and sides for the table.

To start, the waiter brought hush puppies, baked potato gnocchi, and mac-n-cheese to the table. The hush puppies were perfectly fried savory balls of southern goodness. The baked potato gnocchi tasted like miniature-baked potatoes with the cheddar, bacon, chives and crème fraiche, but it lost some of its pasta characteristics. The mac-n-cheese with black truffle oil and goat cheese was my favorite as it was dominated by the sharp tanginess of the fresh goat cheese that was mixed into the pasta. If you’re not a fan of goat cheese this is not a dish for you as nothing, not even the truffle oil, could cut that intense flavor.

Some of us opted for the Sixth Engine spin on the basics I was craving for dinner and others chose more intricate entrées. The cheeseburger, the pork roll sandwich, the roasted chicken breast, the mushroom fettuccine and the mussels were all delivered to our table.

I was holding out high hopes for my pork sandwich. I couldn’t wait for a bite of the moist pork balanced by the crispy roll. But when I looked at my plate I couldn’t even see the pork. I had to do some gardening before eating and trim back the arugula plant that was overtaking my sandwich.

I was disappointed by the dry pork and the bun that had been sogged by the flavorless herbed goat cheese spread. I should have stuck to my original craving and had the cheeseburger, which was a good basic burger, although slightly overcooked. The mussels were slightly fishy and the mushroom fettuccine was off balance with the earthiness of the mushrooms overpowering the more delicate flavors of the dish. The roasted chicken breast with dark meat succotash and pan gravy was the only dish that was completely unscathed by this table of picky foodies. The chicken was tender and flavorful.

Maybe you can’t bring foodies back to the basics without us criticizing the slight flaws, our expectations perhaps rendered unrealistic after expecting too much perfection at fine dining establishments.

Sixth Engine never claims to be that so maybe we were too harsh in our judgments. While I would not return for the pork sandwich, I would probably come back for the chicken or the burger, and I would definitely return for the mac-n-cheese. So if you’re in the neighborhood and want a restaurant with a great ambiance and some strong basic dishes, give Sixth Engine a try and let us know what you think.

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