Highland Park's Royce Restaurant is a Rebirth

John Des Rosiers' Royce isn't just a new menu, it's a new vibe. Read Ed Brill's review of the clubby, more 1930s restaurant that replaced the Italian restaurant Moderno.

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.

Walter White January 28, 2013 at 11:53 PM
On that note I've taken some time to check out local places recommended by Chicago's Best and Guy Fieri's Triple D. In most cases the places are spot on.
forest barbieri January 29, 2013 at 12:59 AM
Walter: I am most certainly not a professional foodie and indeed my food standards are not necessarily that high as I travel so much and am usually so busy that food is an afterthought, so in general food is food as long as it is reasonable fare. I do however place high value on good service. My point on this restaurant is the concept of being Chef Versa Customer driven. In my few times at this restaurant in the past which I had high hopes for, the food was mediocre to horrible and the service was no better. That to me screams for change and when the new “Chef Driven” concept was put forth it showed me that ego was not going to allow a change that would favor the customers.
rotti January 29, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Forest b, You seem to troll all these topics and have something negative to say about everyone and everything. It sounds like you are everything from food critic to business expert. you have been vocal about raw burgers, raw food and peoples investments. The people at Moderno are good people and they are stand up guys. You should consider tailoring your comments to things you know more about and buying business and investing in them probably is not one of them.
forest barbieri January 29, 2013 at 04:50 PM
rotti: While there are many things I do not know about, I believe your comments are made with no knowledge of what area I may be knowledgeable. My entire business career is all about investing, owning, starting, running, buying and selling private and public businesses ranging from small businesses in the millions to over a billion within the USA as well as Internationally so I would respectfully disagree that buying businesses and investing in them is not something I know about. Certainly, the many invitations to Wall Street conferences as well as lectures and trainings given to groups of Russian business managers on Western business practices including negotiation, executive management, marketing, and running a successful business operation would perhaps indicate that someone thinks I have both knowledge and a somewhat educated opinion. Of course an opinion is just that and everyone can choose if they agree or not. I would hope to not be a negative voice but rather one that points out some of the obvious as a voice of reason. I have no doubt that they are good people that want to succeed and provide something that has value to the public. The problem has been that they seem to miss the point that they need to vastly improve their product and be more customer oriented. Good people sometimes have a hard time seeing clearly when something is too close to them.
Kate February 10, 2013 at 04:20 PM
My husband and I, along with another couple just ate there last night. The place was packed. We really liked the atmosphere and the food and thought it was very reasonably priced.


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