Updated: Monday, November 6, 2017, 12:25 PM
Back in late 2015, Suzanne O’Brien — the restaurant lifer who operates Stephen Simons and David Frank’s empire — was talking to chef Nicholas Elmi about a building they had bought next door to their Khyber Pass in Old City.
Concept? She wasn’t sure. Operator? Ditto.
“Nick said, ‘Hello-o-o? What about me?'” O’Brien recalled.
And so, nearly two years later, Elmi — the Top Chef winner and chef/owner of East Passyunk’s Laurel and ITV — and crew are putting the final touches on a brasserie with a French-inspired menu that puts him back in Center City.
Royal Boucherie (say it like “BOO-shree,” with just a hint of the “r”) is set to open Thursday, Nov. 9 at 52 S. Second St., in the storefront that’s hosted a series of eateries and bars over the years, including the original Rib-It (but also the notorious Live Bait in the late 1990s). The crew put in lots of improvements to the building, which was showing its age.
Speaking of age: Royal Boucherie could be a sign of a new maturity in Old City, which for years has seen a shaky balance between bar-restaurants and club-type bars. Just up the block this December, the owners of El Balconcito — two Peruvian/Portuguese hybrids in Northeast Philadelphia — plan to open Vista Peru, a similar spot with a pisco bar, in the former Tin Angel/Serrano space. A pan-Asian bar-restaurant from out-of-town operators is quietly coming together across Second Street, and the former Mad River around the corner on Chestnut Street is preparing to get new life.
At Royal Boucherie, Meg Rodgers and Brian Bendel of Marguerite Rodgers Interior Design had the flooring stripped down several levels to expose its 1830s pine gorgeousness. They added a tin ceiling, plenty of wood, nautical curios, and an elegant chestnut mantel for the fireplace in the rear. O’Brien helped find antique light fixtures.
The dimly lit space, which spills out to French doors and a lovely little lounge, is sexy and deliberately loud.
The first floor — with two bars (one for drinking, another as a five-seat raw bar serving oysters, stone crabs, and cured diver scallops, plus house-made charcuterie) will be open at the outset.
Seating is on leather banquettes or at bistro tables. A 40-seat second floor “sitting room” — where the restrooms are — is under construction. A roof deck is being constructed off the second floor for next spring.
I’ll post the final menu when it’s ready. Elmi and chef de cuisine Steve Forte have hinted at such sub-$10 snacks as smoked trout croquette with cornflakes and Calabrian mayo; and Champagne-braised escargot with garlic, Chartreuse butter and baguette, plus small plates in the $12-to-$15 range, and such heartier plates (top price: $30) as Breakaway Farms steak au poivre with green peppercorn jus, confit shallot, pomme de terre; and rabbit ballotine with prunes, pecans, and trumpet mushrooms. The burger ($16) is served with half-sours, bacon, American, and truffle mayo.
Bar manager Dominic Carullo is offering classics (such as the Deshler, with rye, quinquina, Curaçao, and bitters) as well as signature drinks. General manager/sommelier Nancy Benussi’s wine list includes small-production bottles, with a focus on natural wines. Craft beers, ciders, and local beers, too.
Initial service will be dinner only from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and till 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Bar will be open till 2 a.m. with a limited menu till 1 a.m. Brunch and lunch are on the way in 2018.