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While there’s still much to bemoan about the District’s breakfast scene, there’s now a place to get a stuffed arepa with fried egg on a weekday morning. The Royal, which opened yesterday from Vinoteca owner Paul Carlson, will open as early as 7 a.m. with Counter Culture coffee, eggs, roasted plantain bread, Nutella pin-wheel pastries, and more.
By noon, the LeDroit Park restaurant will change over to a lunch and dinner menu with a Colombian bent. Carlson’s mother (who’s also involved in the business) is Colombian, and his father was in the foreign service. Carlson moved to the U.S. when he was 16, having lived in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala.
But the Royal isn’t a Colombian restaurant, per se. Chef Lonnie Zoeller will prepare empanadas and choripan sausage sandwiches, but there’s also a burger and grilled squid. Many of the dishes—including morcilla sausages and charred vegetables—are cooked on a custom-made, wood-burning grill.
“We wanted the place to be an expression of the things that we liked to eat,” Carlson says. In many cases, that’s the Colombian dishes he grew up with, and sometimes, it’s not. “For a long time, restaurants were placed in categories based on cuisine. It’s less the case now.”
The same philosophy goes for the drinks. The Royal will serve French wine, because, well, Carlson likes French wine. Meanwhile, a hand-cranked shaved ice machine will be used for cocktails and possibly coffee drinks in the future. Housemade vermouth, available on tap, is also a major focus, along with cocktails with a South American flare. A drink called Ashes to Ashes combines rum, guava, mole, ancho chiles, and mezcal.
Carlson has had his eye the Royal’s corner building (with its previously purple facade) for years. “I remember at times walking down here and trying to peek through the window, but the windows were so dirty you couldn’t see in the inside,” he says. After taking over the property, he gutted its insides, and when the neighboring tenants moved out, Carlson was able to acquire and combine the spaces. The entire renovation took 19 months.
Now, the high-ceilinged restaurant and bar is filled with light. Carlson has done a lot of the handiwork himself. For example, he converted on old milk jug into a beer tap with handles made from wooden figurines he picked up at street markets while traveling in Central America. An antique fire extinguisher also been transformed into a tap for cocktails. Old pews from a North Carolina church and chairs once used in the mess hall at the U.S. Naval Academy provide seating.
During the demolition, Carlson came across a sign for Royal Liquor Store, which occupied the building in the ’90s. To pay respect, they decided to repurpose the name for the restaurant.
Take a look at the menus and photos of the space below.
The Royal, 501 Florida Ave. NW; (202) 332-7777; theroyaldc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman