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Royal Tavern comes back — hot | Let’s Eat

Also this week: Slow Hand, a bar-restaurant in West Chester, and Dim Sum Factory, serving Shanghai-style Chinese food in Horsham.

Royal Tavern's facade is now blue.
Royal Tavern's facade is now blue.Read moreCOURTESY ROYAL TAVERN (custom credit)

Judging by the crowds flowing in since its reopening, many people missed Royal Tavern during its closure for renovations. But it’s the burger that has them talking. Also this week, I’ll tell you about a retro pub in West Chester, a new outlet for dim sum in Horsham, and a happy hour in Old City where anything can happen.

Special note: The opening of Tinsel, the pop-up Christmas bar at 12th and Sansom Streets, has been delayed because of issues with the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections. It’s due for inspection Wednesday, Dec. 4. I’ll share word of the opening date ASAP via Twitter and Instagram.

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Michael Klein

A battle Royal over this burger

Royal Tavern, part of the city’s gastropub revolution when it opened on East Passyunk Avenue in Bella Vista in 2002, is back — 15 weeks after what had been envisioned as an eight-week renovation. (It was a must, as the sewer line needed replacement, co-owner Stephen Simons told me.)

Changes also include a spruced-up dining room, new royal-blue facade, and a new basement kitchen. Chef Mark McKinney’s new menu has additional entrees and vegan/vegetarian items, and the bar has two draft cocktails, two wines on tap, eight draft beers, and cider. The wine list now includes mostly natural wines.

All well and good. What everyone is talking about, though, is the acclaimed Royal Burger, which has been tweaked. The half-pounder with bacon, smoked Gouda, and spicy mayo now has pickled shishito peppers instead of South Philly-style long-hots, and the onions on top are now fried, not caramelized.

Reaction, at least among my Instagram commenters and in random conversations, was negative. “I love you guys but it’s not the same without the long hot. Please change it back,” implored Dave Fedoroff, who grew up nearby and now rocks Philly-style sandwiches in New York.

McKinney says he was going for subtlety. Shishito, he says, is “milder but still gives the chili flavor.”

The long-hot, though geographically appropriate, is a whole lot of pepper, you have to admit. Simons says 19 out of 20 customers either asked for the long-hot to be held or left it on the plate — “50% of those who ate it thought it was awesome and the best thing they ever had on a burger. The other 50% complained that it burned out their taste buds and they couldn’t enjoy the burger because the heat had been too much. They were clearly people trying our burger for the first time.”

As for the onion change, which no one seems to be sweating: Fried onions provide a sharp, bitter edge, rather than the sweetness of the caramelized.

This Week’s Openings

Adobe Cafe | Bella Vista

I’m hearing Dec. 8 for the reopening of the popular Southwestern cantina, which has moved from East Passyunk to the corner of Eighth and Fitzwater Streets in what has been a series of bars.

Cogito Coffee | Washington Square West

Croatian-rooted coffee shop opened this week at 105 S. 12th St., next to DaMo Pasta Lab.

Dizengoff | University City

Third location of the Mike Solomonov-Steve Cook hummus shop; it’s in Franklin’s Table Food Hall at 3401 Walnut St.

The Institute | West Poplar

Dec. 6 is the scheduled reopening of Charlie Collazo and Neil Campbell’s bar, newly relocated to 525 N. 11th St. after a long spell nearby.

This Week’s Closings

Pipeline Taco | Wayne

A brief note on Instagram said the restaurant had closed because the owner has cancer.

Val’s Seafood Trattoria | Sewell

Val Earley and Joe Montenigro took to Facebook to say thanks. Read it here.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco | University City

This surfer-bar chain has wiped out after five years on Drexel’s campus.

Where we’re enjoying happy hour

Glory Beer Bar & Kitchen, 126 Chestnut St., 4:30-6:30 p.m. weekdays

For those who miss Eulogy Belgian Tavern in Old City, gone more than two years, know that former manager Dave Crudele is back a few doors away with Glory, set up in the old Mad River and Middle East restaurant space. Like Eulogy, the focus is beer. Crudele has 36 on draft, plus many dozens of bottles — and he keeps his list updated in real time on his website. Fun crowd, too. Since Glory’s debut in mid-2018, its bar staff has remained intact, a rarity in such a transient business.

You never know what will pop up on the happy hour menus. Beers, draft house wines, and cocktails are knocked down to $4. Examples: Bitburger pils, Weihenstephaner weiss, and Köstritzer schwarzbier. Food specials — two a day, such as chipotle-lime wings and barbecue pulled-pork sliders with pickled tomato and manchego — are deeply discounted.

Where we’re eating

Dim Sum Factory, 303 Horsham Rd., Horsham, 215-957-9888

Dim sum, especially the soup dumplings known as xiaolongbao, are the specialties at this Shanghai-style Chinese BYOB, which opened last week to great crowds in Horsham. It’s an offshoot of the Tom’s Dim Sum restaurants in Chinatown and Media. (I’ll send you here for a strange legal tale.)

The space — which was Pizzeria Felici, followed by a branch of Cantina Feliz — has been redone tastefully with brick walls and greenery and carved wood light fixtures on the ceiling. You can surmise that management is treating DSF as the start of a scalable restaurant brand, as the menu is suburban-friendly, with plenty of helpful photos and fewer of the earthier dishes on the menu in Chinatown. There’s even an explanation of how to eat the soup dumplings: “Gently lift it, move it slowly, poke a hole, suck the soup.” The goal seems to be serving dim sum fans as well as those who crave more Americanized Chinese food. A salute to you, General Tso.

Service is cordial and brisk. The xiaolongbao tasted remarkably like those at the other Tom’s, though the tops of the dumplings on my order looked askew at the end of a busy Saturday. You can run a modest tab by ordering a bunch of dim sum, perhaps Shanghai shumai (sticky rice and pork), scallion pancakes, steamed pork buns, or crystal shrimp dumplings; or an entree or two (many noodle and rice variations with pork, beef, chicken, and seafood, all priced under $12.95); or go all in with Peking duck.

Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Slow Hand, 30 N. Church St., West Chester, 484-999-8638

The most striking design aspect of Slow Hand, which opened last spring in downtown West Chester: It looks like a pub, right down to the bare Edison bulbs over the bar, but there are no TVs.

There is, however, an oversize portrait of country singer Conway Twitty behind the bar. Turns out that co-owner Josh McCullough grew up amid country music in Indiana, and Twitty’s 1982 recording of “Slow Hand” (a cover of the Pointer Sisters hit) seemed to run on a loop in his childhood.

Who needs TV anyway? You’ll want to focus on your lunch or dinner conversation and on the food by co-owner/chef Craig Russell, whose cooking dazzled me two years ago when he opened Co-Op in University City.

Russell’s eclectic menu at Slow Hand includes serious hot Nashville-style chicken, served with pickles and white bread; crab tartine in a gribiche over sourdough; carrots roasted with sumac, sesame, thyme, and saffron rouille; shishito peppers with lemon aioli; and sautéed wild mushrooms topped with a soft-cooked egg.

Fun drinks include the Hello Darlin’ with apple brandy, Disaronno, cranberry, and rosemary syrup, though wine or a craft beer (lots of locals) might be a good match, too.

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.

Dining Notes

We talked to six chefs about their favorite kitchen tools that cost less than $50 — perfect gift options for the home cook in your life.

Another iteration of Center City District’s Restaurant Week is around the corner, with two prominent newcomers joining the winter 2020 list.

Wawa’s collaboration beer with Delco brewery 2SP is back. This year, the bourbon barrel-finished Winter Reserve Coffee Stout is joined by three new Wawa-branded brews.

What happens when kids head into the kitchen? Life lessons abound.

Craig LaBan’s Q&A does not appear this week.