By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Restaurants that source from nearby farms aren’t unique. Nor are eateries that brand themselves around all-American diner food. But finding both concepts meshed together is rare.
Toss in a cocktail program that also relies on locally grown ingredients and you end up with Royale, a restaurant and bar with a tasteful 1960s design and ample parking in the back.
This used to be Sessions Public, a beer-focused pub with similar grub but missing the direct connection to a 16-acre certified-organic farm that Royale’s owners maintain in North County.
Those lettuces, beets and heirloom carrots adding prettiness to your salad came from that farm the same day. Ditto for the garnishes topping your grass-fed beef burger — and the guavas, kumquats and passion fruit sweetening up certain cocktails.
Husband-and-wife team Jordan and Mariah Brownwood first introduced Royale at Park & Rec in University Heights, where they sold burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches from the bar’s small kitchen. Their eagerness to open a place of their own materialized several months ago on this fairly bustling stretch of Voltaire Street in Ocean Beach.
Despite its smallish facade, which adjoins Catalina Lounge, customers will be surprised by the roomy interior, which features dining areas in both the front and back, and a lengthy bar in between. Unlike many establishments less than a mile away near the ocean, which are magnets for beer nerds and beachcombers, Royale feels more diversified and LGBT-friendly.
My hubs started with the “rum cocktail,” a feisty mingling of white rum, China liqueur, absinthe and house falernum. Lemon and kumquat from the farm added a bright aftertaste. The Brownwoods are fans of simplicity. Hence, they avoided cutesy names for the drinks and instead list them as “rye cocktail,” “gin cocktail, “mezcal cocktail,” and so on.
I opted for a house-made agua fresca bursting with ultra-fresh guava, passion fruit and lemons. It was love at first gulp, as though I was drinking from the spout of a juicer in motion. If you’re the designated driver, don’t pass it up.
With the exception of a smoked trout salad, which we didn’t try, there is nothing out of the ordinary on Royale’s succinct menu. The quality of the food, however, compensates for such commonalities as burgers, tuna melts, onion rings, etc.
The tuna melt was superb. The fish are trawled off the coast of Ensenada by a local angler. They arrive to Royale in whole form, and then broken down and boiled in pickle brine. Even when converted into classic tuna salad like this, you’ll realize by its purity of flavor it doesn’t come from a can.
A patty melt using grass-fed beef sourced from central California arrived medium as requested. It yielded lots of natural juices and sweetness from the caramelized onions on top. In addition to American cheese, it also flaunted a slice of oozy Gruyere, which jived well with the toasted rye bread. My only caveat was that I would’ve preferred the mustard outside of the sandwich, or none at all since it overpowered the sandwich’s subtle, buttery essence.
The veggie burger is made in-house with a rich combination of black beans, quinoa, fried eggplant and sautéed mushrooms. Served on a whole wheat bun with spicy vegan mayo and pickled veggie slaw, it’s thick, nourishing and delicious, albeit messy and crumbly as you make your way in.
Right down to the hand-battered onion rings and accompanying ranch dressing — and a hot pretzel with homemade cheese sauce — the junk factor is noticeably devoid from what is essentially naughty diner food. But these are meals that assert themselves as fresh and traceable rather than light and healthy. And that’s good enough for me.
The availability of well-constructed cocktails, craft beer and a handful of nice wines are the icing on the cake in what is a unique and easygoing kind of establishment run by a cool, metro-based couple that happen to be farmers.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.