- AUTHENTIC: Rocky's cheesesteak.
There seems to be a strange kind of verbal arithmetic going on here when it comes to restaurant names. That is, the fewer letters in the name, the more people will pay to eat there. Name your joint “Blu” or “So” or “Nu,” and you’re almost sure to draw in a ritzier crowd than if you call your place “The Italian Rowboat,” or “Mee-Maw’s Diner” or “Ol’ Stinky’s Catfish and Homemade Chow-Chow.” Next year, we’re convinced, somebody’s going to call their place lowercase “i” and riots will ensue, with blood, sweat and $18 pomegranatinis running in the streets.
Still, it often pays not to judge a place by its name, as evidenced by the new Rocky’s Pub in Sherwood. While its handle and decor are all working-class Joe, everything on the menu is carefully and artfully prepared. With a friendly-to-a-fault wait staff, great prices and a true back-East (specifically Philadelphia, where the owners come from) corner bar atmosphere, you’d better get in now before the locals discover it.
Then again, it’s funny we should say that. The biggest problem with Rocky’s is finding it, hidden as it is in the far corner of the Indian Hills Shopping Center. The outside doesn’t promise much either: a stripmall storefront that at first blush doesn’t look big enough to hold a good-sized closet, much less a bar and restaurant. Inside, Rocky’s runs with their tiny space and gets “pub” right to the last letter, with a cozy little bar in the rear of the long, narrow space and a handful of booths for diners.
Given how disappointed we’ve been in some other bars that claimed to serve food, we were surprised when we saw the menu: a collection of salads, sandwiches and entrees that seemed much deeper and more interesting than the fare to be had in most bars we’ve been in.
From the list of appetizers, we tried two of the most exotic: the fried jalapeno rings and the sweet potato fries. Both turned out to be little delights. The rings were battered in a tasty, sweet coating that mercifully killed some of the heat. The sweet potato fries were crunchy and light; a completely different texture and flavor than common fries, and a perfect match for the little cup of honey mustard dressing on the side.
From the extensive list of salads and sandwiches available at lunch, we tried what our waitress assured was the most authentic Philly cheesesteak to be had in town. Companion, meanwhile, tried the Rachel, a cole-slaw-not-kraut spin on the Reuben sandwich, which was loaded corned beef on pumpernickel bread.
Overall, the Philly lived up to the hype: a soft, foot-long roll mounded over with sauteed onions, tender slivers of thin-sliced steak, cheese and a spicy red sauce. Though the red sauce was unexpected, it united the flavors of the sandwich into a sweet little song. Indeed, as our waitress had promised, it was the best Philly I’ve had in Little Rock, and I’ve sampled more than a few. Served with a side of homemade potato chips, it made for a helluva lunch (though I wanted to lay down under my desk and snooze when I got back to the office … maybe the six-inch next time). Companion just had this big smile on his face after wolfing down his Rachel; it might have had something to do with the two drafts he had to accompany it.
Given the good stuff Rocky’s had dished up for us at noon, we both returned for separate trips at dinnertime, when the menu gets a lot more substantial and shows the owners’ Italian roots. In the mood for something simple and hearty, I tried the spaghetti and meatballs. Once it arrived, the dish turned out to be a lot more flavorful than I had hoped for: a big helping of perfectly al dente spaghetti, covered in more of Rocky’s just-right red sauce. Paired with three firm and expertly seasoned meatballs and a basket of garlic bread, it was an unexpected treat from what can otherwise be a fairly bland dish.
On his dinner foray, meanwhile, companion and a couple of others went for more complicated entrees: the chicken marsala (with a bowl of pasta and red sauce on the side), the tri-color ravioli (red, white and green, as in the Italian flag, made in-house), and the absolute star of stars –- prosciutto piselli verdi. The dish was creamy, yet didn’t come across as too rich, with filled tortellinis and nicely accented by the ham and peas. The marsala, meanwhile, was as we’ve found it in the best Italian restaurants out East, and the ravioli was a hoot just to look at, but it was quickly consumed too.
On the downside, things seemed kind of quirky at the bar on one night: They’d run out of merlot, but were willing to run up to a nearby liquor store and buy some more if we wanted; they’d used up their only two bottles of pinot grigio at a birthday party the night before; the beer taps went on the blink; and there’s no cider. An East Coast-style pub and no cider? Something’s wrong with that. Still, they were accommodating to a fault to make us happy.
Overall, Rocky’s Pub is a knockout when it comes to big taste in a plain brown wrapper. Everything we’ve tried there so far has been an absolute treat, prepared and served (not to mention eaten) with a smile. We say: Try it soon — though you’d better get there before us.
6929 John F. Kennedy Blvd.
Indian Hills Shopping Center
North Little Rock
From the appetizer list, give the pizza fries a whirl. Unique to Rocky’s as far as we know, it’s a big platter of seasoned fries covered in melted mozzarella cheese and red sauce. Sure they’re sloppy, but that’s why God invented napkins.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Dinner service begins at 4 p.m., dinner entrees are not available at lunch.
Inexpensive to moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.