Reminiscent of old-world American diners, Route 66’s interiors are agog with arty music and film references, its menu loaded with burgers, pizzas and all things typically American. Burger lovers, wait for a new menu in August!
Well if you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66.
That June afternoon, Nat King Cole’s soft baritone voice was being drowned in the mighty Goan downpour. With wiper blades oscillating defeatedly, I parked the car, cranked the volume, and listened to Cole’s 1946 R&B homage to Route 66, one of the most famous roads in the United States.
I, too, was headed to Route 66. Not the one that ran for 3,940 kilometres between Chicago and Santa Monica, but to a Smokehouse & Grill known for American grilled food, cheeseburgers, juicy steaks & more. And yes, art on its walls and tables.
As I walked through the red door in a blue building, it wasn’t Meat.Fire.Beer (that’s the restaurant’s punchline) that buttonholed me. A horde of painted singers were staring at me: Michael Jackson, Prince, Freddie, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston… Bruce Willis and Sean Connery were topsy turvy on a wooden plank dangling steadily from the ceiling. A sword stood next to a cross, and an antique bicycle seat had metamorphosed into a Texan longhorn. From the ceiling hung two 450-kg wooden bullock cart wheels with tiny white lights lending glint to the spokes.
If you squint, Route 66’s interiors can be quartered into two distinct halves: the old-fashioned Hollywood and hard rock side with padded sofas with burgundy upholstery and hand-painted tables named after Hollywood; and a more staid, barn-like half with ebony-coloured furniture in sets of four chairs around a table.
Chef Xavs Norr (that’s not his birth name but we’ll come to the christening cruncher later) was busy in kitchen, so I took a seat right under Michael Jackson’s nose and picked the menu that resembles a magazine cover with a beefy moustachioed biker and a slinky pillion rider. The cover seductively plays with words: P.H.D (a threesome cocktail), Dark Vador (a burger not for the faint-hearted), Healthgasms (working day pocket perfect lunch), Sunday Special Drunch Menu (eat your heart out and drink to your fill).
The dish names/descriptors are flanked by photographs of fancy bikes, newspaper clippings, one corner for helmet cameras, another for non-scratch jackets as well as proclamations that all the buns are freshly baked, all steaks are 12-day aged, all pizzas are baked in a stone oven & are 14-inch rectangles, and a witty innuendo: Put something interesting between your legs (motorcycles: do not think dirty!).
There are Wiches, Doggs (not a typo, Route 66 spells it like that), Pasta aka 66, Salads, Desserts but what gets the hungry talking are the burgers: Superbowl Reuben (66 Burg sauce, sauerkraut, pastrami, bacon, 210 gram beef patty, rye caraway bun, Rs 639), Ghost Rider (Devil’s blood, jalapeños, meat balls, bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, pork patty, 66 bun, Rs 699), Angels & Demons (chilli con carne, devil’s blood, pork curlies, onion rings, bacon, beef patty, gherkins, Rs 699), LSD (BBQ pork rib, jalapeno, bacon, chipotle, cheese, beef patty, 66 bun, Rs 699), WTF (Kasekreiner, onion rings, Hell sauce, cheese pork patty, double dose of bacon, BBQ sauce, 66 bun, Rs 699), Lethal Weapon (pickled red onion, Swiss cheese, 66 pork+beef patty melt, pickles, potato bacon bead, Rs 649).
Under Michel Jackson’s piercing eyes, I was tossing between LSD, Lethal Weapon, and Ghost Rider when Chef Xavs Norr walked out of the kitchen. Having worked nearly 22 years in hotels abroad, the Siolim native returned to Goa with an American diner dream on the kitchen table. He knew he’d stay away from seafood (“because everyone was doing it”) and burgers and pizzas would be his mainstay. After a not-so-long balcony spread in Panjim, Chef Norr opened Route 66 in an old blue building in Panjim.
But the soft-spoken Chef Norr wasn’t talking food first (he did not brag about the time he wowed Chef Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa with his version of Miso Alaskan cod). His narrative swerved towards the importance of sustainability, to make things in-house to keep purchase to the minimum, of the need for compassion, the countless stray dogs who thrive on the Route 66 leftovers, the herb garden in the making, TinTin restaurant that he runs in Vagator, the wedding cakes that his wife bakes, and the cats in his home (“I have so many that I do not know how many I have,” he confesses).
Why an American diner was the obvious question. “This isn’t just any American Diner Fix, it’s the real McCoy. We don’t serve your everyday burgers, steaks, or hotdogs. These are mouth-watering flavour bombs, meaty creations stacked high with bacon, sausages, patties, cheese, spicy Mexican peppers topped with chipotle chillies, adobo sauce and jalapenos,” says Chef Norr quickly, adding that coming to Goa and working with locally sourced ingredients and turning it around to work to an international palate is just his medium of cooking good food and expressing gratitude to the farmers and product.
In Route 66, the music could get you swaying after a few sips of the classics served in traditional pickle jars (beige & brown martban) and the story of how a Savio Noronha turned into Xavs Norr will nudge you to rethink the name your parents bestowed upon you. A Xavs Norr certainly sounds more delightful than a prosaic Savio Noronha.
As I stepped out of the red door in a blue building and walked in the drizzle, I was reminded of John Steinbeck talking of Route 66 as “the path of a people in flight…It’s a symbol of both comfort and hardship” in The Grapes of Wrath. Chef Norr’s Route 66 is a destination for the hungry. It’s a symbol of scrummy wiches, doggs, burgers, pizzas. Meat. Fire. Beer.
Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars)
Interiors/Décor: 6/10 (if you can ignore the crack on the wall and slightly grimy upholstery)
Vibe: Hollywood & hard rock
One dish we loved: Burgers & more burgers
One thing that didn’t work for us: Parking can be huge issue in this busy narrow street.
Good to know:
Address: Route 66, Ground Floor, Casa Morada, Rua de Ourém. Blue Building, Opposite Patto Pedestrian Bridge, Panaji, Goa 403001
Timings: 12 noon to 11.30 pm
Alcohol served: Yes
Smoking: There are two tables for smokers outside
Music: Soon, there will be live gigs/karaoke from Thursday through Sunday.