The Subway Cafe owners are taking it back to the ’50s, flamingo pink Chevy’s and all.
So a guy walks into a bar … and is transported back to the 1950s. Owners Jimmy and Nikki Mokas opened The Roadhouse Cafe in February, and things are going great – as would be expected from a family with a long history of restaurant service.
The Mokases transformed the former Rod’s Roadhouse Cafe from what was primarily a dance venue into The Roadhouse Cafe, which now puts more of an emphasis on the dining experience.
With a car full of friends, I pulled into the parking lot of the Roadhouse Cafe around 7 p.m. on a recent Saturday night, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. After parking in the spacious lot, I swung open the doors to The Roadhouse Cafe and was met with neon lights, mirrored walls and a friendly staff.
A server quickly came and gave us carte blanche on where to sit. As our heads swiveled around taking in the decor – all inspired by ’50s pop culture – we made our way to a spacious booth in the far corner under a flamingo pink Chevy sedan. We missed happy hour, and our server informed us that entertainment and late-night specials didn’t start until 10 p.m. But that didn’t stop us from ordering a couple of Lagers as soon as we hit the seats.
With an emphasis on food, the Mokases decided to rely on their kitchen experience. For the past 10 years, they’ve co-owned The Subway Cafe (which is the inspiration for dishes on the Roadhouse menu), and they previously operated the Dover Valley Restaurant in York.
Upon returning with our beers, our server asked if we’d tried the Roadhouse meat sauce. I let her know this was my first visit, and she told us all about the menu, which made ordering rather easy.
The highlights of the menu include a handmade New York-style pizza. The nine-inch personal pies have a perfectly crispy thin crust and can be personalized to individual tastes. But the house specialties pies are mouthwatering: the Roadhouse Ultimate (pepperoni, sausage, ham, meatballs, peppers and onions), Greek (feta and provolone cheese, tomatoes, black olives and fresh oregano), Hawaiian (grilled chicken, pineapple, ham, bacon and provolone cheese) and barbecue and white garlic chicken.
The top seller, explained my server, is a toss-up between the Hawaiian and the Roadhouse Ultimate. We opted for a couple of Hawaiians and were not disappointed. The addition of chicken and bacon blows away any other attempt at making an island-inspired pie.
The rest of the menu features traditional pub fare like wings, subs, sandwiches and salads. Dinner platters harken back to the days of the classic American diner with a fried seafood platter, a New York strip steak and a grilled chicken breast served with fries and coleslaw or apple sauce. But the true star of the menu is the aforementioned meat sauce.
“The sauce is homemade, all from scratch. It’s a family recipe that goes back almost 70 years,” explains the Mokas’ daughter, Matina. She’s the voice of The Roadhouse, while mom and dad stick to maintaining kitchen standards. “We brought the pizza here from The Subway Cafe… It’s not the same place at all, but we have many of the same great menu items. We make all of our own burgers by hand.”
For as popular as the meat sauce is, there is yet one more extraordinary item at the Roadhouse: dessert. About 15 years ago, explains Matina, her father just started making eclairs. The Roadhouse’s cream-stuffed monsters are drizzled with fresh chocolate and big enough to share. The Roadhouse also offers a frozen peanut butter pie, made completely in-house and sliced to order. Both desserts are wonderful.
“The peanut butter pie came from The Subway Cafe, but the eclairs my dad has been making for years,” says Matina. “He’s a good cook.”
As the evening rolled along and my belly filled with dinner, dessert and drafts, I was glad when local DJ Tommy Tunes walked in the door. The Roadhouse staff cleared tables from the dance floor, and Tommy Tunes set up to spin an assortment of songs to get people up and moving. I was pleased by the assortment of music: everything from rock to country, and all of it danceable. Before heading to The Roadhouse, I’d heard weekend entertainment didn’t exist anymore, so when I talked with Matina after my visit, I wanted to know how and why dancing made its comeback at The Roadhouse.
“We stopped entertainment when we first opened because we didn’t know what kind of crowd we were going to have,” she says. “A lot of people asked for it, so now we have local DJs on Saturday night.”
The DJs play from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. with changing drink specials on drafts and mixed drinks. Bellies full, we couldn’t make it until 2 a.m. But maybe next time.
• 1031 Eisenhower Boulevard, Harrisburg; 939-9915
• Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 12-10 p.m.