The Royal Tavern, Just A Cheese Too Far

royal tavern sign
The Royal Tavern, Bella Vista – 937 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia PA 19147 (Find it!)

My search for the perfect neighborhood bar nearly ended a few months ago when I first entered the hallowed grounds of the Royal Tavern in Bella Vista. It was late one Sunday morning and we needed a hearty breakfast to help stave off an oncoming storm of hangover. The lack of available seating told me that I’d been missing out since moving to the neighborhood a few months prior, and I instantly knew I’d be returning soon. The room is casually decorated with Christmas lights and other random pieces. The atmosphere is comfortably unspectacular, making the quality beer selection and upscale bar menu slightly surprising. I had read several reviews on PhillyBlog (RIP) naming the RT best burger in Philly, but opted for the Eggs Benedict instead (highly recommended if you’re there for brunch). If their burger was really as good as the locals were saying, I wanted to experience it in all it’s glory (I prefer night burgers to day burgers) and thus opted to stick with breakfast this day.

My recounting of that night – the official Royal Tavern burger experience – is a story for another day. For on this most recent visit, the RT was offering a special. Six words, the reading of which awakened my taste buds and melted my heart: GOAT – CHEESE – STUFFED – KOBE – BEEF – BURGER. Until this day I had never had the pleasure of tasting kobe beef, nor had I experienced a burger stuffed with goat cheese (coincidentally my favorite cheese and favorite product of goats). Knowing how delicious the original RT burger is and after hearing the description from the waiter (in place of lettuce and tomato, the kobe burger came with spinach and a tomato jam), I hesitated just slightly before ordering. But really, how could I pass up such a gloriously unique item?

When she arrived, I was slightly disappointed to see that the burger was much smaller than the standard, I assume due to the higher price of the beef. I checked out the tomato jam spread across the top half of the brioche (of course) bun and found it strikingly similar to marinara sauce – somewhat of a relief, but somewhat odd as well. Digging in, I immediately noticed the tenderness and distinct flavor of the Kobe. It’s hard to describe the difference, but the kobe just has something special (and ultimately very enjoyable) as compared to a standard ground beef patty. It was then that I realized this burger didn’t need goat cheese. In fact, the slight dryness of the goat cheese interfered with the juiciness of the burger and created an odd paring in my mouth. Luckily, my first bite had sent most of the melted goat cheese to the plate below, providing a delightful new dipping sauce for my fries (important to note: any order of fries comes with a malt vinegar and mayonnaise dipping sauce that may well be the best condiment I have ever had). The tomato jam and spinach were present enough that they added to the sandwich, but not so much that they interfered with the flavor of the meat. I’d be curious to try a Kobe burger on its own or with the standard LTO and ketchup to get a real sense of how it compares to standard ground chuck. I can’t help but imagine how great this burger would have been had they let the Kobe beef fend for itself, rather than trying to dress it up with a variety of ingredients.

Here’s the Beef: The Royal Tavern is exactly what I look for in a neighborhood bar. It’s dark and a little dirty, but the beer is cold and the food is spectacular. I’ll be back there soon so I can re-experience the official RT burger, but the Kobe beef special was pretty good too. I’d like to taste it on its own without being stuffed with cheese or fancied up with special sauce as the impressive flavor of the Kobe should have a chance to shine through.

BURGER: 7.5 out of 10

ESTABLISHMENT: 9 out of 10

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