Rockhill, which opened last November in Cherry Hill, doesn’t want to be just another burger, pizza, cheese steak and sandwich joint. As chef/co-owner Andrew Welder told me on the phone after my visits, “We prepare as much as we can from scratch, and we don’t just talk about better ingredients; we actually use them.”
Welder’s comments often come with a side of braggadocio. Fortunately, he backs them up more often than not. He uses a coarse, mostly chuck grind on his burgers because “we don’t want that mushy meatloaf [texture].” He seasons the 7-ounce patties with salt and pepper and sears them in garlic-herb butter in cast-iron pans. The patties are finished in an oven that preserves the sear while keeping them moist inside. Every burger I had in two visits to Rockhill was perfectly cooked.
What goes on the burgers also deserves praise. Dill and bread-and-butter pickles made in-house. Peppery house-smoked bacon. The fry sauce, a take on Catalina dressing, uses roasted tomatoes instead of ketchup. In a family-friendly, reasonably priced restaurant like Rockhill, the commitment to quality is worth celebrating.
Eat indulgently, eat abstemiously: it’s up to you. I had the overflowing Sriracha Honey Chicken cheese steak. Another night I had the Super Salad, with kale, chickpeas, farro, quinoa, apples and raisins. I had a crock of commendable brandy-spiked French onion soup and a braised brisket sandwich. The seven-item kids menu offers a salad and a turkey sandwich as well as pizza, PB&J and a cheese steak.
Rockhill is modeled after Welder’s parents’ restaurant, the still-thriving Pepper Mill in East Goshen, Pennsylvania. Welder worked there before earning a hotel management degree from Cornell. After graduating, he worked in New York restaurants. “I credit chef [Didier] Virot for teaching me more about food and taste than anyone else,” Welder said. “I learned a good deal about economics and what makes a restaurant tick from [Lidia] Bastianich and [Mario] Batali.”
Economics do force some compromises. Tater tots and waffle fries are bought frozen. “We currently do not have the capacity to keep up with production if we make them in-house,” Welder explained. Both arrived hot, crisp and well salted. I had a bigger problem with tots “Montreal-style.” In Quebec, French fries in brown gravy and thick cheese curds are called poutine. On the Rockhill menu, “Montreal-style” means “gravy, cheese sauce.” The thin sauce was a long way from curds, and the gravy never showed up.
Little mistakes add up. The Chris’s White Pizza (white-meat chicken, ricotta, oven-roasted tomato and spinach) desperately needed salt. The poorly assembled stromboli leaked its ingredients. The ground beef (with a little turkey) in the flavorful chili was too fine, almost soupy. Onion rings were not rings but straws, and their gluten-free buckwheat breading was oily and didn’t adhere well. The brisket sandwich and the Pulled, Smoked and Jerked, Pork sandwich were generous to a fault—meat tumbling onto the plate, bread soggy, a job for knife and fork.
Yet there is plenty to enjoy, including a novel pizza strewn with fiery banana peppers, house-made Italian sausage and caramelized onions. Though not called a cheese steak, the grilled veggie sandwich with diced broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes and Kennett Square mushrooms functioned happily as one under its melted American cheese.
Friendly service smoothes out Rockhill’s rough spots. So do milkshakes made with ice cream from Richman’s, founded in Salem County in 1894, now owned by Philadelphia Water Ice. With a dozen mix-ins, kids get a kick out of making their own. So do grown-ups.Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Sandwiches, $7-$10.50; pizza, $8-$14; sides, $4-$8.50; desserts, $4.50.
Ambience:Large, industrial-hip space with flat-screens, communal tables, booths and a counter.
Service:Friendly and swift.