An old bar scene veteran keeps upping its game.
So, a guy walks into a bar … that claims to have the best burgers in the ’Burg.
Rookie’s has a dress code: pants around the waist, no sleeveless T-shirts or jerseys for men and absolutely no foul language. This is a bonus for bar-goers like me who like to include the whole family (most of the time).
For this adventure, I tapped my oldest son, who is of legal drinking age and prefers either cocktails or cider. I was happy to find a great selection of brews on draft, including Angry Orchard cider for him.
After staring down tap handles from local microbreweries, I settled on an old favorite: Yuengling Lager (not a microbrew, but a local brew at least). I wanted to ease into the night with a beer on the lighter side, but Rookie’s has plenty of flavorful craft options, like Spring House Brewing Company’s Astounding She-Monster Mango I.P.A. or Tröeg’s Java Head Stout.
“In three years, a lot has changed,” says Chris Vasiliades, who has managed the bar since 2011. “When I got here, they had 10 taps and they were all domestic beers.”
Owner Konstantine Pappas purchased the bar in 2002 and set out to create a family-friendly sports bar, making some changes in recent years. “We put four new taps on and added Victory, Spring House, Tröegs and other microbrews,” Vasiliades says. “Not only is Spring House local, but just hearing the names of their beers makes you want to try one. It’s a conversation starter.”
I knew I needed to save some taste buds for the famous burgers, and I’m glad I did. As if 12 specialty selections weren’t enough, Rookie’s offers a build-your-own option for the half-pound, hand-formed, superiorly seasoned Angus burgers. My son (who is soon off to culinary school) took full advantage of this option and had a burger topped with sauteed mushrooms, peppers, onions, bacon, coleslaw, feta and an over-medium egg. It was a wonderful mess!
I wanted to try one of the house creations and had a hard time choosing between several of Rookie’s football-themed burgers: The Blitz; the First & 10; and the California. I went with the First & 10, a mouthwatering burger with two slices of yellow American cheese, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion and coleslaw.
“We’re pretty well known for two things: our burgers and our wings,” says Vasiliades, who notes that the menu will soon be changing. The new, streamlined menu will feature the most popular items from the current menu, plus a few new dishes. The house-made soups and chili will remain. I had the chili, and it is wonderful – a pleasant, up-front heat with lots of succulent beef and soft beans.
What impressed me most about Rookie’s was the crowd. When I walked in, everyone made eye contact and welcomed me with a nod of the head or a spoken “hello.” The crowd was an eclectic mix of old and young with a variety of backgrounds.
“I think because of where we are located, there are a lot of people who have still not been in here – people who are pleasantly surprised when they walk in. We also have a lot of regulars. We’re a little gem here,” says Vasiliades.
The L-shaped bar at Rookie’s is separated by a counter rail where standing patrons can focus on one of the 12 large flat-screen TVs. Off the main room is a game room complete with an original Ms. Pac-Man game, two pool tables and an electronic dart board.
Rookie’s recently installed a new, state-of-the-art sound system for the jukebox and primary television. Most of the walls have new paint, and Vasiliades wants to keep the improvements going. She wants to replace the dated carpet – both downstairs and up. The second floor at Rookie’s is a fully functioning event space with four pool tables, a private bar and abundant seating.
If you head out to Rookie’s, you’re going to have a good time with a hospitable staff and happy regulars. It’s Rookie’s by name, but this place has the panache of a seasoned veteran.
• 2238 Derry Street, Harrisburg; 561-0030
• Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 12 p.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 12 p.m.-12 a.m.