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Dining Out

Is a Steampunk restaurant in Southie a sign of peak gentrification?

Huli Huli chicken at Sixth Gear Cask & Kitchen.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Every time I think Southie has reached peak gentrification, it proves me wrong.

When Hub Discount, the convenience store where my late grandmother played Keno and Megabucks, became American Provisions, a farm-to-table market selling charcuterie and artisanal honey, I thought nothing could symbolize the changing nature of South Boston more.

I stood corrected when Broadway Furniture, the shabby shop where I found used chairs for my college apartment, morphed into Neatly Nested, a home decor boutique offering fiber wall hangings and grapefruit oleander soap.

Wrong again when the Quiet Man Pub, where Gillette workers once nursed beers at dawn after their night shifts, was demolished to make way for Southie’s first Starbucks.


And now we have a new contender for the neighborhood’s most startling symbol of change: Sixth Gear Cask & Kitchen, a steampunk-themed restaurant where the water is poured from laboratory flasks, popcorn in flavors like S’mores replaces a bread basket, chips come with brie and fig jam, the menu careens from honeydew gazpacho to mango tandoori soup, and basil whipped cream crowns a dessert. (Note: As menus change frequently, dishes mentioned in this review may no longer be available.)

Nana, if you were still here, you would most definitely not recognize your old neighborhood.

The steampunk-inspired dining room at Sixth Gear Cask & Kitchen in South Boston.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Kristi and Darryl Cozza, the daughter-father team behind Sixth Gear, and their head chef, Christopher Barchard, previously of Red Lantern and Empire, opened the restaurant in January with grand ambitions.

“Our initial goal was to bring a style of restaurant that’s basically never been in this part of Southie,” Barchard explained by phone. “To get dinner like this, you usually have to go to the Back Bay or the Seaport.”

By “this,” he means ingredients (think agave nectar, tatsoi, gorgonzola creme, whipped burrata) and prices (some entrees approach $30) that push the envelope for South Boston’s East Side. That half of town, despite its growing hordes of sophisticated young professionals, has a surprising absence of fancy food.


And the spot Sixth Gear occupies is a restaurant graveyard: five eateries — Sauce Trattoria, Wolfie’s, Red’s Eastside Grille, Kelly’s Landing, and A&A Fisheries — have died there in recent years. Sixth Gear hopes sixth time’s a charm.

Its steampunk decor looks like a cross between a library and curio museum; the dining room is plastered with books, clocks, wine barrels, gears, keys, hourglasses, feathers, even a skull and a butterfly collection. The bathrooms are worth a visit if only to admire the decorative pipework, which doubles — strangely attractively — as toilet paper holders.

The restaurant’s name, by the way, has two meanings. It refers to the Cozzas’ shared love of stick-shift cars, and it’s also a term, popularized by Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney, referring to a state of mind in which there are no worries or concerns.

Darryl Cozza did seem a little worried, though, when, during one of our visits, he was going from table to table chatting up customers, although he ended up doing more of the talking than we did. The challenge of running a restaurant in a gentrifying place, he told us, is figuring out your target clientele. Is it longtime residents, many on fixed incomes, looking for a straightforward meat-and-potatoes meal? Or is it newcomers with more adventurous palates who think nothing of dropping $100 on dinner for two?


“We were trying to cater the menu toward the younger generation plus the older generation,” Cozza said, “which is difficult to do.”

Sixth Gear is most successful when it sticks to the basics, which it doesn’t do often enough.

The bacon dates, $6, at Sixth Gear Cask & Kitchen in South Boston.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

The kitchen makes a fine burger with rich cheddar bearnaise sauce, a wonderful homemade dill pickle, and excellent shoestring fries — half sweet potato, half Idaho. We’d readily order that again. Same for the beef skewers marinated in Guinness, molasses, and brown sugar, leaving them nicely caramelized, or the sweet dates with salty bacon and mocha glaze.

Huli Huli chicken was a unanimous hit. It’s prepared Hawaiian-style, with a teriyaki chutney made by stewing down an entire pineapple — crown, stem, skin, and all — and served with a habit-forming asparagus-bacon saute.

Fish is another strong point, including flaky rosemary salmon, Parmesan haddock that’s a hybrid of tempura and fish ’n’ chips (with a yuca croquette replacing traditional fries), and soupy salmon ceviche (Barchard says he makes it that way so people can sop up the juice).

The parmesean haddock, $22, at Sixth Gear Cask & Kitchen in South Boston.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

But the more ambitious the dish, the more things go awry.

That gazpacho tastes oddly carbonated. Sure enough, Barchard tells me later that he adds a Sprite-like soda to the mixture. Sprite does not belong in soup. Watermelon salad comes with long stalks of kale so unwieldy we need a steak knife to cut them, and the melon is soggy and a bit sour from having been grilled in a vinegary simple syrup.

Mango tandoori soup is a confused brew of sweet and savory. The iron-pressed chicken, despite its gloriously crispy skin, and pork chop are simply bland. And the “BLT stack” has potential — heirloom tomato, baked pancetta, bacon aioli — but it’s missing a key ingredient: bread! It’s deconstructed, just a pile of innards that collapse in a heap when we attempt to cut into it.


The most puzzling entree is beef Wellington. Traditional preparation is tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry. This version comes in a hollowed-out baguette with meat we can’t, for the life of us, identify. A Sizzlean calzone comes to mind.

Desserts: skip. A chocolate souffle tastes suspiciously like Hershey’s syrup. Limoncello creme brûlée lacks citrusy oomph. Rhubarb crisp is gritty with undercooked oats, and the basil whipped cream might as well be a dollop of pesto.

“Weird food with great intentions,” as one of my dining companions aptly said.

Sixth Gear has a lot going for it: promising location, pleasant dining room, warm service, excellent cocktails, good-size portions, and generous pours. But in trying to be all things to all people (did we mention the trivia nights, card party nights, paint nights, and, yes, plant nights happening at different times of the month?), its aspirations are exceeding its abilities, and its identity is blurred.

“We were trying like heck to bring a nice sit-down dinner to the neighborhood, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what the neighborhood wants,” said Darryl Cozza. “They want to come in after work, sit down, have a beer or glass of wine, maybe share some apps, and chill out.”


Sounds like the customers have spoken. Maybe it’s time to follow their lead.


81 L St., South Boston, 617-765-8836, www.sixthgearboston.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $6-$14. “Mediums” $10-$16. Entrees $22-$26. Desserts $10-$12.

Hours Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Mon and Wed-Thu 5-10 p.m. (closed Tue), Fri-Sat 3-11 p.m. (bar daily until 1 a.m.).

Noise level Low

What to order Bacon dates, Porter beef skewers, burger, Parmesan haddock, Huli Huli chicken, rosemary salmon

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at pfeiffer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @SachaPfeiffer.