Overall impression: If I were to build a luxurious man cave, the new Royal Pig Pub & Kitchen would be my template.
This is the place many of us downtown Fort Lauderdale workers have been waiting for: an upscale yet casual bar on Las Olas Boulevard where you can grab an outstanding burger and watch a game on TV, yet still be able to take a high-powered client for lunch. You'll find plush booths, cushioned bar rails, a brick atrium above a long, beautiful bar, a smartly curated list of craft beers and polished wood all over.
Taking in the sharp settings, it was surprising to learn that the restaurant is owned by the same group that operates the Hooters chain. But thinking it through, it started to make sense. The help is almost universally good-looking (though they are more substantially clothed and both genders), there are TVs tuned to ESPN at every booth, and the chicken is outstanding. Another misconception can come from the restaurant's name; it's not really a barbecue place, and there's not a lot of pork on the menu. However, you will eat like a king -- and a pig.
Starters: Chicken fingers are one of my favorite lowbrow guilty pleasures, but it's often impossible to find some that aren't frozen to oblivion. Enter Royal Pig with their free-range chicken fingers topped with sawmill gravy and served with a sliced biscuit ($9), all made in-house. The chicken is hearty, heavily battered and of exceptional quality, making these the best chicken fingers I've encountered in years.
Organic sweet potato fries topped with a sweet tupelo honey cider drizzle ($7) dazzled the table with their excellence. Ignore the price tag. These fries are thin and crispy with tiny bubbles that enhance the flavor – again perhaps the best we've had. Another excellent sweet potato comes in the form of casserole ($8) with a smooth texture and a gooey, perfectly singed layer of marshmallow on top.
New Orleans BBQ shrimp, served in an Abita beer braise ($13), didn't impress with a smoky sauce that overpowered the otherwise nicely done shrimp. The accompanying bread wasn't as soft and flavorful as we'd like. Bacon mac and cheese ($7) didn't taste like much at all, compounded by thick, overcooked pasta. However, spinach dip ($10) is rich and generous with the helpings, a surefire option for a group.
Entree excellence: Grouper with grits, mussels and mango piccadilly ($23) was an impressive-looking plate with a thick slice of grouper that approached sea bass-like juiciness. Be prepared for an unusual yet delicious version of chicken-fried steak ($18), made with Kobe beef and served with sawmill pepper gravy and bacon-stewed green beans. Unlike most country-fried steaks, the emphasis here is on the excellent meat, not the seasoned batter.
Where Royal Pig really shined for us was with their outstanding burgers. Their regular, old-fashioned cheeseburger ($12) is my new go-to burger in Fort Lauderdale, better than lots of trendy burger-specific spots. The burger is thick, juicy and perfectly pink throughout, served on a buttery brioche bread.
Not to be outdone, Royal Pig's free-range turkey burger with pineapple, prosciutto, mozzarella and tupelo honey BBQ sauce ($12), elevates the art of the often-bland turkey burger.
Sweet!: The restaurant offers some interesting, solid-tasting dessert, though they are a bit pricey for the size. The almond lace basket with raspberry sorbet and organic berries ($12) was the most interesting of the bunch with excellent sorbet made in-house. A raisin carrot cake ($7) had a moist texture with spot-on sweet icing. A warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream and cherry compote ($8) is a crowd-pleaser served hot and moist.
Liquid assets: You'll want to go for the fun selection of craft beers, best sampled as $10 beer flights in four glasses. If you order some beers, your server may offer you an extra flight of some of their more interesting beers, including a pear cider and Belgian Chimay beers.
Mixed drinks are also a good bet. A blood orange caipiroska ($10) is as good as we've had – even in Brazil – with the fruit crushed and stirred expertly. A dragon berry fruit cosmopolitan ($9) has a nice bit of pomegranate to cut the alcohol and is perfect for this downtown crowd.
Service: The wait staff here has smarts to match the looks. All of the servers we encountered were professional and well-trained on the menu's details. Our particular server was seldom far from reach, and there was good teamwork with refilling drinks and clearing plates. When our server noticed that we disliked the mac and cheese, he insisted on taking it back and dropping it from the tab.
Royal Pig Pub & Kitchen
350 E Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale