There are a lot of good burgers on the North Shore.
The Claim Company reclaimed my tastebuds when they reopened in Northbrook Court two years ago. Five Guys has crept closer and closer, with outposts in Wilmette, Glenview, and Vernon Hills. And the granddaddy of them all, Charlie Beinlich's, continues to grind them out every day, as they have for fifty years.
Into this crowded meat patty market steps Royce, now in the former Rosebud and Moderno space in Highland Park's Renaissance Place. While I was a Moderno fan, they weren't doing enough business to pay the rent. Chef and Proprietor John Des Rosiers knew it was time to reboot, and out the other end -- after a quick three-week renovation -- has come his new concept.
Royce isn't just a new menu. The restaurant space was quickly updated, with reclaimed wood dividing walls and new carpet on the floors. The feel is more clubby, more 1930s. The vibe is more casual, more direct. The staff seems more at home than they did at Moderno, more willing to have a conversation and get to know you. This bodes well for the new concept.
Still, food is what will make or break Royce, after Moderno's sometimes-too-adventurous cuisine was rejected. The menu features a handful of classic starters, including chips and dip, pretzel rolls, calamari and shrimp cocktail. There are also a half-dozen salads, from a classic wedge to artichoke and arugula. A few standard main dishes are available, including a whitefish and a steak.
The bulk of the menu, though, is dedicated to burgers.
Four different fillers are available - grass-fed beef, buffalo, chicken, or veggie burger. There are hundreds of different combinations available, through different ingredients, cheeses, and sauces. There are six chef-created burgers available, including the "Royal Royce" and the "Breakfast Burger."
I've had a chance to spend a fair amount of time at Royce, including a sneak preview before opening and two dinners in two weeks. In short, the new restaurant smells like a winner. I'm not always the best judge of that - I thought Moderno would succeed, and I mistakenly wrote off Arriva Dolce prematurely -- but instinct says this is the right place for Highland Park at the right time.
Here are some Royce insider tips:
* Cocktail: Try the Moscow Mule. They even have copper cups for service. If you're not a fan, the house-infused North Shore Fizz is also a winner. Thursday nights are the best nights for cocktails, as they will be having house specials.
* Starter: The shrimp cocktail or the calamari. The shrimp cocktail is nice and briny, with huge shrimp and a decent sauce. The calamari are fresh, not frozen, so no rubbery taste creeps in.
* Salad: Haven't tried them all yet, but the artichoke and arugula is really clever. Add a protein for just $5, it's a bargain, especially for the shrimp.
* Burger: Buffalo burger, medium rare. If you order this any more well done, it will be dry. Add the Pleasant Ridge cheese, some mushrooms, avocado, and a little jalapeno ketchup. It seems like a great combo.
We have had a spate of restaurant closings in Highland Park. The market has spoken that we want more affordable options, someplace we could go every week and not be disappointed. This time, I think Des Rosiers has it right with Royce.
Am I right? Let me know what you think so far in the comments.