If you’re not familiar with T.J. Rockwell’s, just ask around. The mere mention of the place seems to elicit more than a few smiles. After visiting, I understand why people enjoy meeting there for reasonably priced food and drink.
The drawback is that it is also known to be crowded at times, so I decided to take a proactive approach and call for reservations at their Monroe Township location at 896 W. Grantham Road. An employee who answered the phone informed me that the restaurant takes reservations for groups of eight or more only, so we decided to head out a little early last Friday night to avoid the rush.
When we arrived at 5:45 p.m., the parking lot was filling up quickly. Nonetheless, we were greeted and seated almost immediately. Now I understand why T.J. Rockwell’s is large, with several seating areas inside, a deck outside and about 27 additional seats at the long, wooden bar.
The attractive décor, done in hues of sage and brown, features dozens of hanging stained glass lamps that add a cozy illumination to the dining areas. Rather than describing it here, I’ll direct you to the website at www.tjrockwells.com, where you can take a 360-degree tour of both their Monroe Township and Elizabethtown locations from the comfort of your own computer.
Like the restaurant, the food selection is also quite large, so it may be a good idea to consult the website beforehand to peruse the many available options. The menu is divided into 11 categories, a few of which I’ll touch on here. “Appeteasers” (perfect for sharing) include the “Captain’s crab dip” that is served with soft pretzel pieces, and “Bullfight nachos,” which are topped with seasoned chicken or beef, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, jalapenos, salsa and sour cream. Also popular are the signature “Rhino Fries,” which feature a special blend of melted cheese and bacon and are served with a side of ranch dressing.
Handhelds include burgers and a variety of sandwiches with a wide range of ingredients from roast beef, to grilled chicken, to crab, pulled pork and prime rib. Diners can pair sandwiches with a choice of soups like lobster bisque, crab chowder, tomato, potato and onion.
Those hungry for something more substantial can choose from pasta, steak, fish, ribs, stir fry dishes and fajitas, to name just a few.
I decided on a crock of French onion soup ($5.99) to accompany the “Nantucket Chicken Salad,” which included grilled chicken, romaine lettuce, croutons, mixed cheeses, diced tomatoes, dried cranberries, glazed pecans and poppy seed dressing ($9.99). My dining companion, who had worked up a hearty appetite, opted for the Baby Back Rib Dinner ($18.99).
As we waited, I noticed that Rockwell’s offers free souvenir glasses with some of their adult libations, so I added a “Ruby Red Crush” to my order for the cute glass sporting their resident mascot, the Rhino.
Because Rockwell’s was so well staffed, service was brisk and we were digging into our dinners within minutes. My friend said he was delighted with the succulent, fall-off-the-bone ribs and the savory, not-too-sweet barbecue sauce.
My salad was big enough for two. The poppy seed dressing, which was served on the side, paired quite well with the ingredients, and the piping hot onion soup was perfectly seasoned.
As the dinner hour progressed, families, friends and couples poured into the restaurant. Parents with little ones in tow likely ordered off Rockwell’s “Crumb Grabber” menu which features items like grilled cheese, cheeseburgers and chicken fingers. The all-inclusive meals include a drink and a frozen treat for dessert for less than $8.
We passed on the dessert options, which included tempting treats like a baked apple skillet, a “sticky bun surrender” topped with vanilla ice cream, and peanut butter pie enrobed in chocolate. Those who crave just a little taste of something sweet can take advantage of Rockwell’s “World’s Smallest Sundae” for a mere 69 cents. This scaled-down version of the original is a great idea for those who like dessert, but hate the extra calories that come with it.
As I was leaving the restaurant, I decided that I would return again soon, only next time with a few more friends. After all, the holidays are just around the corner.
Next Up: Lunch at Dad’s Garage Grill and Burger House in Mechanicsburg