The small town of Wormleysburg is a happening area due to a trio of restaurants located on Front Street: Rockbass Grill, Dockside Willie’s and Duke’s Riverside. It seems that no matter what time of day you pass through, you’re likely going to see people bustling about the area on their way to meet family and friends at the familiar eateries.

When Dockside Willie’s was destroyed by fire in 2018, the town felt the loss. Customers who eagerly awaited its return may be glad to learn that it’s once again open for business, just in time for the holidays.

I decided to pay Willie’s a visit around dusk last Saturday to try to get a jump on the weekend crowds, and I’m glad I did because the parking lot across the street was already two-third’s full when I arrived. The first thing I noticed upon pulling in was the impressive new neon signage installed out front.

Inside, we were greeted by a smiling employee and immediately led to a window table in the front room, which overlooked parking and Front Street.

I excused myself for a minute to take a quick tour of the place, which appears to be much bigger than the former establishment, with high ceilings and a sprawling floor plan that features three seating areas. Guests seated in the back room can enjoy a view of the river, or catch a glimpse of the goings-on in the kitchen through the glass partition that separates the kitchen and the dining room.

In the front room there is table and booth seating, along with a large bar that seats about 30. I counted at least a dozen flat screen televisions and also noticed that the waiting area is also larger, with two long benches available for customers to relax while they wait for a table.

Owner Don Carter Jr., in describing the décor, said that he was going for a fishing lodge look, with Pennsylvania-milled timber and artifacts like fishing rods, paddles, outboard motors and other such items on display.

The 15-page menu can be a bit overwhelming, so you might want to take a peek at Willie’s website to keep from detaining your waitress, or members of your party, while you make up your mind. The menu lists pub fare like mozzarella sticks, fried pickles, stromboli, burgers, tacos and three types of pizza: brick oven, Chicago deep dish or thin and crispy.

Entrees include items like steaks, crab cakes, salmon and ribs. If you prefer a hearty salad, you can choose from among 10, with old standbys like chicken Caesar and “the wedge,” to restaurant specialties like “Willie’s Rowboat Chicken Salad” containing greens, onions, pepper, cheddar jack cheese and marinated chicken served in a taco bowl.

And who can turn down a hearty pasta dish? Willie’s has that too, with choices like lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine alfredo and more.

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Our waitress asked us if we’d be ordering an appetizer, mentioning that “river rocks” are popular. Intrigued by the name and the fact that they were listed as a “Dockside Willie’s Original,” we decided to go for it ($6).

My husband chose an entrée also described as a specialty of the house: the chicken parmigiana ($15.95). It had been awhile since I’ve had deep dish pizza, so I ordered the “healthy” vegetarian selection with sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms, olives, onions and peppers ($10.50). I know that’s one carb-loaded dinner, but hey, it’s the holidays.

A drink menu offered year-round favorites like margaritas and mojitos and a separate menu listed winter cocktails. The Mistletoe Mule with Smirnoff vodka, ginger beer, pomegranate seeds, mint and crushed candy cane ($8) sounded intriguing and festive, not to mention refreshing.

Soon we were digging into the yeasty, garlicky, delicious “river rocks,” filled with savory ingredients like meatballs, cheese, Italian meats and sausage and served with a side of marinara. I now understand why people make it a point to make a special trip just for them.

Our waitress was on top of her game and was both friendly and jovial. The pacing of our meals was spot on, and within 15 minutes we were enjoying our respective entrées.

My small deep-dish vegetarian pizza was loaded with veggies as advertised, and the sauce was savory and delicious. The portion was generous enough to easily feed two people, so keep this in mind when ordering.

My husband’s entrée was also more than ample, containing a number of large, heavily breaded chicken tenderloins covered in cheese and meat sauce and served over spaghetti. He said the chicken was fantastic, and the spaghetti with meat sauce that was left in the bowl after the chicken was gone made for a second great entrée.

As for my drink with the candy canes, who would have thought the flavors would work well together, but they did. The minty drink served as a nice “dessert,” and I was glad I gave it a try. If you’d rather a more traditional ending to your meal, Willie’s offers selections like New York cheesecake, peanut butter cup triple chocolate cake and homemade peanut butter pie, to name a few.

If you’ve yet to visit the “new” Dockside Willie’s, now might be the time to check it out. You might discover that it was worth the wait.

Next Up: Lunch at Koop on Market Street in Camp Hill.

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