Years ago, I stumbled on the Royal Hilltop, a faux-British pub in the middle of a suburban strip mall that, despite its geographical and cultural challenges, was a fine neighborhood bar for those truly in love with greasy fish fries, hand-pulled Fullers, pints of black and creamy Murphy's stout, and English Premier League soccer. Last month, I stumbled back into the Cheeky Monk in the heart of Capitol Hill, and only then realized that James and Tina Pachorek, the folks behind the Royal Hilltop, had proved their smarts yet again here. I liked the Monk for having a menu more daring than I expected, food better than I'd anticipated and a beer list that should make those with a penchant for elder European brews pee themselves with excitement.
The Royal Hilltop is a much simpler place than the Monk, but it is also much closer to my home. So last week, that's where I went after a storm had dumped two feet of snow on my 'hood, in search of a place to warm my spirit and water my liver. Although the dining room was virtually deserted (all the TV channels were making out like this was the apocalypse come early), there were still a couple of hearty souls on the floor and at least one cook willing to whip up a plate of fish and chips when he wasn't busy watching the Liverpool/Manchester United match on the big TV at the end of the bar.
Though somewhat generic (perfectly tubular Alaskan cod filets and up-from-frozen seasoned shoestring fries), the fish fry hit the spot — but then, artfulness and originality are not things I look for when I'm out for an early fry-up. In any case, my meal was ably prepared, served fast and hot, and matched well with the pint of Murphy's I downed while staring out the big front windows as Mother Nature made Aurora her bitch.
The rest of the menu hasn't changed a bit since I first reviewed the place six years back: straight-up American pub appetizers with cutesy U.K. names, a long list of sandwiches and burgers, a few standard British entrees like shepherd's pie, chicken curry and bangers and mash. Looking back, I now can see that the Royal Hilltop was a kind of proof-of-concept for the Pachoreks — a less challenging, less demanding concept stuck into an area that, at the time, was badly in need of a friendly neighborhood pub. My only problem with the place? Now that I know the owners are capable of doing something so much more interesting, the Royal Hilltop pales a bit in comparison to the Monk.