Review: Fathom Seafood House

Mike Stollenwerk's latest earns its Fishtown address

At Fathom, where oysters come cold or “chicken-fried” atop potato salad, there are several ways to drink. You could cool your belly against the painted concrete bar and kill $3 Kenzingers until Halladay hands it off to Baez in the seventh. You could lay claim to a captain’s chair at one of the yacht-club poker tables and maybe try to get a lazy round of whist going while you sip on a Salty Dog. Or you could see if the aging beauty perched on the far barstool, specifying Crown Royal old-fashioneds with lime wedges between her cigarette breaks, is actually onto something.

[sidebar]This is Mike Stollenwerk’s bar, so of course you can eat here, too. The chef behind Fish and Little Fish is not known for making people go hungry—or at least not anyone who polishes off his skate wing with truffled spaetzle, or milk-poached monkfish with short rib ragu. But those kinds of creations aren’t what Fathom’s about. Fishtown is a long way from Stollenwerk’s Rittenhouse and Queen Village restaurants, and Fathom is very much a Fishtown bar.

Neighborhood purists will no doubt scoff at the $14 grilled cheese sandwiches packed with lobster meat, but that’s the priciest (and silliest) thing on a menu otherwise filled with down-home fare. The raw bar shucks East and West Coast oysters for you, but you’ll have to do your own work on the chilled blue crabs. (The stringy meat of individual Jonah crab claws awaits those who fear shell-crackers: a just punishment for the prissy.) There are excellent littleneck clams, mingling in their liquor with chorizo and espelette-blasted pipérade, and the mussels come in a bath of coconut curry so fragrant with lemongrass that it could easily double as aromatherapy.

The menu, executed by former Fish sous-chef Robert Holloway, also bends in a dirtier direction. Stollenwerk hops on the poutine bandwagon, dousing his Old Bay fries with crab-stock gravy along with the requisite cheese curds, and bar food doesn’t get much wetter, grosser or weirdly addictive than that. Those fried oysters are pretty good, too, but I never made it to the cod pierogi or fried crab Louie keeping them company at the heavy end of the menu, because as long as the raw bar serves cocktail sauce this good (it’s the finely shredded horseradish that makes it), why stray?

Amid Philly’s increasingly stratified bar scene, Fathom is a rare hole-in-the-wall where you can get decent white wine or a Belgian strong ale, yet when a certain Don appears through the window, the bartender has his Miller Lite and shot of tequila ready by the time he gets to the door. Because that’s a way to drink in Fishtown, too.