Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Burger Challenge Round 3: Royal Tavern

Round three of the Great Burger Challenge of 2011 finds us at the Royal Tavern on East Passyunk. At first appearance no more than a local watering hole with a kitchen in the back, they have set the standard in South Philly for the gastro pub concept.  Partly because they've been doing this for a few years now, but mostly thanks to a small but thorough list of craft beers on tap, comfortable surroundings and a surprisingly inventive menu. A fellow challenge contestant referred to them as the "Memphis Tap Room" of South Philly, and I can definitely see the parallel. However I think it would be more appropriate to call Memphis the "Royal Tavern of Fishtown". Their sister restaurants of Cantina Los Caballitos, Cantina Dos Segundos & Khyber Pass Pub probably get more press and foodie blog write ups, but Royal Tavern quietly does some very good things.

Several people questioned my sanity when I mentioned the burger challenge and didn't put them on the list. Clearly, I was missing out. Coming from NoLibs though, there was never reason to slog all the way to Passyunk & Carpenter when we've in the middle of gastro pub land with Standard Tap, JB's, N. 3rd, etc. I now have a reason.

Royal Tap room serves one of the great burgers of the world. Someone should write a song about this piece of artistry so that generations from now, our kids will know the tales of The Great Angus Burger. Served on sesame seeded brioche bun, the patty thick and cooked properly on a flat top so that no drop of flavorful grease may be wasted. No gimmicks here, just really good ground beef, served exactly as ordered (medium rare, please) with all the suggested fixins - bacon, caramelized onions, smoked gouda, pickled longhots and chili mayo. It must have taken them months if not years to come with exactly the right combo of toppings to put this burger over the top. The best bacon you can imagine, and not cut in half to fit the roll but whole strips protruding way past the bun, like the burger is sticking it's tongue out daring you to eat it. Thick slices of onion that taste like the've been slowly sauteed for hours. Oh, is that a hint of smokey gouda I detect? Why yes, yes it is. Pickled peppers for a bit of vinegary tang and creeping heat. And the chili mayo that had hints of cumin in it reminding you just oh so subtly of really good roganjosh from Tiffin (or maybe Ekta on a good night). And don't forget the huge kosher pickle on the side. This could be a candidate for last meal on earth.
The Angus Burger.  Kneel before it.
My only negative comments would be that there were too many sesame seeds on my bun, but thats just a matter of personal preference, and the toppings were not evenly distributed. First half of the burger was missing the longhots and chili mayo. Although that did make for an interesting surprise a few minutes into the meal - it's like I got two burgers in one!

Have I mentioned the fries? My god, the fries! They might be laced with meth. Airy and crisp, perfectly seasoned and definitely not soggy or sopping with grease. No shoe strings. No sweet potatoes here. Just some of the best fries in Philadelphia, giving the frites at Monk's a run for their money.

Oh, there's also the rest of the menu. Fresh popcorn served in a brown paper bag so you can see the little stains of truffle butter seep thru is sprinkled with shaved pecorino cheese. Now I know where Khyber got the idea for the bacon popcorn. Only $3 for this version makes a great appetizer on the cheap.

The sweet potato bahn mi (Vietnam's answer to the hoagie) is made with bibb lettuce, jicama, carrots, pickled daikon radish, plenty of jalapenos and a cilantro aioli. We had them cut it in fours to make like a starter so everyone got a taste. All highly approved. The crunch of the radish, carrots and jicama went great with the savory sweet potato. Good crusty role and the cilantro aioli was a clever plus. Even the collard greens served on the side were awesome. They didn't just phone it in here. Hints of smoke and ham hock tell me these were cooked long and slow, and a kick of vinegar and tabasco gave it some tang and heat. Tasty.

Sweet potato Bahn Mi served w/ sauteed collards
Since popcorn, collard greens and a 1/4 of a bahn mi are clearly not enough appetizers before a burger challenge, we went all in with an order of the Cubano spring rolls. Basically a Cuban sandwich with the roast pork, ham, swiss & pickles, but wrapped up and quickly deep fried with a side of smokey ancho mustard for dipping. The boys both really liked these, but the girls took a few bites and decided to save room for the main attraction of the evening. Eh, more for us. 

Cubano spring rolls with ancho mustard 
A few Founders porters on draft took care of the rest of the ordering for me - there was definitely no room for dessert. I am so thankful to the suggestions from readers to add Royal Tavern to the lineup for the Great Burger Challenge. The gauntlet has been thrown down. This will be a tough one to beat.

Food Baby Rating: Octomom!!

937 East Passyunk Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 389-6694
Open Weekdays 11:30am-2am; Weekends 10am-2am

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