R2L is serving up some of the city’s most inspired and delicious sandwiches from their perch high above the city in Liberty Two – a location that happens to overlook South Philadelphia. The symbolism is not lost on the menu, as Chef/Owner Daniel Stern has created food that “walks the fine line between traditional and modern, where the old school things that people grew up on also grow up.” Old school sandwiches like cheese-steaks, burgers, lobster rolls and the Reuben are transformed by Stern into unbelievably decadent, yet unpretentious finger-foods.
We started with cocktail Reubens. Stern had to get this one perfect, as he is a believer that there ”probably hasn’t been a better sandwich invented.” House-brined corned beef, fresh-made sauerkraut, Gruyere cheese and a stone ground mustard are wrapped in a pocket of homemade rye dough, grilled and baked. The crunchy, tangy and savory delight is served on a plate dressed with celery-root ketchup based thousand island dressing and stone ground Dijon. “Eat it with your hands” – the Chef insists. Our complaint was that we didn’t have 700 of these little treasures lined up to knock down.
The venison cheesesteaks draw inspirations both from South Philly and Stern’s days as executive chef of Le Bec Fin. The cheesesteak has grown into a seriously sophisticated sandwich here, as venison loin, sauteed wild-mushrooms and carmelized onions with a reduced venison jus is served inside an Amoroso roll, cut bite-sized to force you to savor the richness of this masterpiece. The Amoroso roll and Fontina fondue “whiz” that the morsels rest upon both ground us in this dish’s roots, while the old-world preparation of the venison brings the flavors sky-high.
The lobster roll, inspired by the chef’s visits to the coast, is lip-curlingly delicious and has us inventing adjectives. Tail, claw and knuckle-meat is dressed with a smooth and light, yet rich home-made lavender mayonnaise. The finely diced blanched celery balances well texturally with the hunks of lobster, and the home-made potato roll brings a very homey property to the sweet and savory sandwich.
The Chef has imparted his decadent signature on the classic cheeseburger, and to do so spent weeks experimenting to get his meat proportions perfect. We love when a chef aims for “optimal fat and flavor content” when selecting what to grind – and this burger, with aged cheddar and smokey bacon, can’t help but make you giggle like a school girl. Both the mind and taste buds are absolutely tickled by the unsweetened donut that it’s served on, as well as by the fermented mushroom-ketchup that the chef created after “researching the various forgotten ketchups that stopped being made when people started relying on the grocery store for their condiments.” This burger is legit. To paraphrase MC Hammer, this burger is R2L2Q.
R2L is open from Monday through Wednesday 5pm to 1am and until 1:30 Thursday through Saturday, serving food until 10 and 11 respectively, and offers a full menu fit for the exclusive and inviting cocktail-party ambiance that the decor and highrise view suggests. While we came for the sandwiches, we wouldn’t mind spending an evening here, eating the finger food, sampling the well-crafted cocktails and moving on to the full menu.