October 31, 2017

The Royal OTR offers refreshing lunch and late-night eats

You don’t have to be a member of any monarchy to feast like a king or queen at The Royal OTR. The new “sandwiches + greens” spot in Over-the-Rhine opened in mid-September, offering a (refreshing) new dining option for lunchgoers and sandwich-seekers alike amidst the myriad pizza slices that pepper Main Street.

Sandwiches are indeed the bulk of the menu, with inventive takes on classics like chicken adobo grilled cheese and beef dip. But if you came for the sandwich, you’ll probably stay for the farro grain bowl.

The concept is self-explanatory enough: Start with a bowl of farro — a chewy cooked grain in the quinoa family of healthy stuff with which to replace rice — then layer on tons of customizable topping options like pickled carrots, sunflower seeds and roasted sweet potato. Add chicken or chopped pork for $3, top with a dressing, et voilà.

The simplicity of the process belies the refreshing taste. Seriously, the pickled vegetables alone are enough to make one weep with joy. In a world full of customizable bowls, chiefly found in chains — from the ubiquitous Chipotle to new contenders like Piada Italian Street Food — The Royal OTR stands out.

“The idea behind the whole menu was if you want to eat clean and you want something healthy during the week, we’re going to have that,” says Tom Stephen, one of the restaurant’s owners. “But at the same time, if you have a hangover and you need two chili dogs, a bag of chips and a Coke, who’s to say those two people aren’t going to lunch at the same time?”

Stephen and fellow owners Jeremy Moore and Garth Lieb are also the masterminds behind another Main Street staple: Liberty’s Bar & Bottle. Following closely on The Royal OTR’s heels is their third endeavor together, The Pony, a neighborhood bar with an abbreviated menu, taking up shop in the former H&R Block location at the corner of Main and 14th streets.

The group’s close-knit relationship began in the days of yore when Neons was still open. Moore was a manager, Stephen ran the beer offerings and The Royal’s executive chef, Mike Kasak, was on-hand serving up burgers on the patio through his Taste 513 catering service.

“One of the things we’ve always focused on is, one, making things a little bit different, but two, focusing on what the neighborhood is missing,” Moore says. “We’ve all lived in OTR for collectively, I think, probably over 30 years, and we always ask ourselves, ‘What would we want to see in the neighborhood?’ We built this place because we wanted sandwiches on Main Street, a place you could just get a quick bite.”

Speaking of sandwiches, the aforementioned eggplant caponata is a very interesting dish. Kasak’s Uncle Gino helped inspire it, with the Old World brine-y flavors of capers and black olives playing nicely with Kasak’s addition of crunchy cashews and queso fresco, piled atop cilantro-flaxseed bread from Sixteen Bricks. The verde pork is not something I’d normally order, but Kasak’s in-house 24-hour salt-cured pork and melange of pickled onions and carrots made it a worthwhile step outside of my comfort zone. (Kasak and his crew go through 30 quarts of pickles a week.)

The pork used for this sandwich and the Peruvian ham melt can also be found in the excellent braised cabbage and pork soup — one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted. The braised cabbage and pork are the main ingredients, but the roasted carrots and roasted celery root were my personal MVPs in this dish. There was a sweet nuttiness to the celery root that was an ace complement to the flavorful, full-bodied broth.

Even without a hangover, the Deep South chili dog is a big winner. Starring Avril-Bleh’s andouille sausage and Kasak’s housemade pork étouffée on a solid bun topped with garlic jack cheese and onions, this chili dog delivers the perfect amount of zing and heat. They recently started offering a truncated late-night menu until 3 a.m. on weekends.

“We’re going to focus on having three or four different types of grilled cheese and then three different types of chili dogs,” Moore says.

The restaurant itself takes after the minimalist vein of independent corner shops prevalent these days. Sleek white walls, a hand-lettered chalk menu behind the granite counter, gleaming wood accents.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own personality. When I stopped by to chow down — I mean, “do research” — I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pretension at The Royal.

They offer LaCroix by the can, but their coffee is just good old coffee. They make a health-conscious grain bowl, but can also help sop up the remnants of an all-night bender with a chili dog and chips.

Some dining spots know their personalities so well they don’t really make it an option for newcomers to get to know them. The team behind The Royal knows who they are and they’re comfortable in their identity, but they welcome others to get to know them, too.

“We really try to make environments available to everybody, while simultaneously understanding what the feel and vibe of each part is going to be,” Moore says. “Knowing your identity in each particular space — we need to accept and embrace that and try to create an environment that everybody can enjoy.”

That’s the kind of egalitarian attitude that makes the restaurant’s name a fun, tongue-in-cheek misnomer. The Royal OTR is a great equalizer in restaurant land — enjoyable, delicious, attractive and affordable, all in one.


Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 1200 Main St., Over-the-Rhine; facebook.com/royalotr.



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The Royal OTR offers refreshing lunch and late-night eats
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Royal OTR offers refreshing lunch and late-night eats
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Royal OTR offers refreshing lunch and late-night eats
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Royal OTR offers refreshing lunch and late-night eats
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Royal OTR offers refreshing lunch and late-night eats
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Royal OTR offers refreshing lunch and late-night eats
Photo: Hailey Bollinger