The Royal, which opened this June in oft-overlooked LeDroit Park, smack in the middle of say, your walk from U Street to Bloomingdale, hovering on the fringes of Shaw, is making its case to be a true go-to neighborhood spot, an ideal candidate as an all day, all night, anytime hangout. It’s a coffee and breakfast joint, it’s an all day bar — cocktails start being poured at 11am, folks — and it grills up simple, satisfying Colombian and Latin American inspired food late into the night. Just don’t call it a restaurant.
Of all the things that The Royal does offer, it doesn’t offer waiter service — customers walk to the bar to order — which is the main reason they’re trying to kill that restaurant tag. Call it what you will though, as a hangout, coffee shop, breakfast spot, watering hole, eatery, and late night grub purveyor, all apply for starters.
Coffee and breakfast kick off at 7am on weekday mornings, and 8am on the weekends. There’s a full lineup of seriously made coffee, espresso and tea, and the morning food menu is highlighted by several different arepas, lighter bites, and plates such as the Choripan, a fried egg with Butifarra sausage, tomato and Cotija cheese.
As the hours pass and you decide it’s appropriate enough to begin with the adult beverages, you’ll find a small but diverse lineup of beer and wine, along with classic cocktails. The bar itself is well stocked with an emphasis on unique offerings, vermouth and bitter liqueurs, and local spirits.
There’s also two more on tap selections, including a rotating cocktail, currently the Zombie, as well as house-made vermouth. The vermouth is somewhat of a cross between sweet and dry styles, and is certainly worth checking out whether it’s to start a meal, or to leisurely sip on.
Another unique twist behind the bar is the vintage, hand-cranked ice shaver used for shaved ice cocktails. Owner Paul Carlson hauled it up himself from Guatemala, having found it was actually cheaper to fly there, buy it and bring it back, than to have one shipped from Asia.
The cocktail menu has just been revamped for fall, and in addition to the house vermouth and the Zombie, you’ll find a lineup of originals including…
the Dr. Moreau, with El Silencio Mezcal, mango, lime and a paprika cordial; the Royal Cup, with Fords Gin, cucumber, strawberry, Averna and ginger beer; the Newburn, with Pig’s Nose Scotch, tamarind pulp, a cardamom and cinnamon syrup and lemon; the Passion of the Spice, with Milagro Blanco, jalapeno, passion fruit and lime, the Ascension; with pineapple cachaca, dark rum, hibiscus and citrus; and last but not least, the Aguardiente Punch, which is a holdover from the summer menu but has been revamped with new seasonal ingredients.
Most of the drinks find a way to pair a savory or spicy component along with fresh fruit juices. The drinks are also dangerous, in a good way — as in, they’re pleasurably easy to knock back.
If you’re only coming for the drinks though, whether caffeinated, alcoholic or both, you’re missing out.
The full afternoon and evening menu from chef Lonnie Zoeller is all about keeping things authentic, fresh and simple, and letting the ingredients do the talking. Find South American classics like arepas and empanadas, along with a handful of condiments that can be used on anything, such as a tangy aji sauce, a spicy green chimichurri style sauce, a sweet and spicy orange sauce, and a white cilantro aioli.
Slather those sauces on anything coming out hot from the grill, such as Butifarra and Morcilla sausage plates served with roasted potatoes, and grilled salmon, steak, or squid. The house burger is made on a brioche bun with cabbage slaw, and Royal cheese spread.
The wood-fired grill isn’t just used for meats though. Vegetables take their turn over the heat with dishes such as charred vegetables with buttermilk dressing, again using whatever is fresh and available, and grilled avocado served over red quinoa and lentils. Other standout vegetarian options include tomato salad with charred corn, chick peas and goat feta, and a cucumber and hearts of palm salad, with lime, chili and red onion.
It may not be a restaurant, but you’ll definitely want to eat there. If not, then just bring it home with you, as they also do a bustling takeout service, offering a nice change of pace from whatever takeout places are in the typical routine.
Check out TheRoyalDC.com for more information and their full lineup of coffee, cocktails and food.