Where you can live like you’re on vacation
It had been years since I’d visited T.J. Rockwell’s. I didn’t remember it being an unpleasant experience – I just didn’t remember it. Well let me tell you, one visit to the newly renovated, island-vibed deck at T.J. Rockwell’s in Elizabethtown, and there’s no way I’ll forget again.
T.J. Rockwell’s is co-owned by brothers Steve and Jeff Heckman (the brothers own another location in Mechanicsburg). For the E-town deck renovation, Jeff says he wanted people to feel like they were on vacation when they visited.
One step onto the deck, and “Margaritaville” started playing in the back of my mind. I really felt like I could step off the deck and walk onto the beach with sunscreen in hand. Sitting outside, you are surrounded by umbrellas and hanging lights, complete with palm tree-esque overhangs to steal some shade when the sun gets too hot. And if you have kids with you, there’s even a shaded playground right off the deck.
The 50-seat bar on the deck is a maritime work of art. It’s a boat. I don’t mean it’s the shape of a boat. I mean, it’s an actual boat. Jeff says they found an old fisherman’s boat in Maryland and decided it would be an unusual way to do something interesting with the bar. It was gutted, carved out and adds something special to the atmosphere. He says he often hears customers say, “I’m in Lancaster County, but I’m at the beach.”
The expansion of the bar brings with it a swell of new summer drink offerings. Jeff says T.J. Rockwell’s new line of Mason jar cocktails have been a huge success. Southern-style cocktails – like “Tennessee Tea” and “Strawberry Comfort” – are served in take-home Mason jars. Heckman says he orders 3,000 jars every three weeks just to keep up with demand.
After you’ve finished your “trip” to the South, try the “beer journey” around the world. Rockwell’s offers 66 different kinds of bottled beer that you can try. Customers are given a punch card so they can keep track of what they’ve tried, and when they’ve punched all 66, they’ve completed the beer journey. I can’t think of a better way to travel around the world.
If drinks aren’t enough to get you into the summer mood, Reggae Wednesdays are sure to the trick. Rockwell’s features music on the deck mid-week to get you over hump-day and into a summer state of mind. They feature everything from steel drums to a full reggae band on the entertainment calendar. Not much more can put a person in vacation mode than sitting at a boat bar, sipping drinks from a Mason jar and chillin’ to some island tunes.
Perhaps the coolest part of the renovation is the atrium – T.J. Rockwell’s version of a four seasons room. The atrium is a bright, open dining space with solid wood molding and a beautiful ceiling that makes you feel like you’re on a ship. Natural light shines through the windows all around the room. The unique part of this room, and what has allowed T.J. Rockwell’s to “have the best of both worlds,” according to Jeff, are the four large garage doors that open out to the deck to make one huge outdoor dining experience.
The atrium opened in the winter, giving the staff lots of practice time with the new dining area and giving the restaurant positive buzz for the upcoming outdoor dining season. Jeff says another reason he’s so excited about the new four seasons room is because it allows him to keep employees year-round whom he would normally have to let go over the slower winter season. “It improves continuity and gets us ready for those busy restaurant days like Mother’s Day,” Jeff says. “We can entertain customers no matter what time of year and still have the outdoor deck experience.”
When I was there, it was a chilly May morning, so we decided to enjoy Sunday brunch in the atrium. As the meal progressed, it got warmer outside, and the servers lifted up the garage doors and opened up to the outside. The Sunday brunch is something I had heard about from several people, and Jeff boasted about the selection and freshness.
The Sunday brunch includes a full buffet. My daughter couldn’t keep her hands off my omelet made with onions, cheese and bacon. There was everything from fruit, waffles, muffins and home fries, to a full carving station with ham and turkey.
Since we visited for brunch (and it was so delicious), I wanted to know what I should come back to try for dinner the next time. Our server told us that we could not come again without trying Rockwell’s stuffed steak and the rhino fries. The stuffed steak is a New York strip stuffed with mushrooms, onion, peppers and cheese. I found out that the rhino fries are a T.J. Rockwell’s tradition – a decadent plate of home-style fries piled high with melted cheese and bacon, served with a center of ranch dressing for dipping. I was tempted to force it down even after several trips to the brunch buffet.
T.J. Rockwell’s seems to have something for all types of crowds, and all are welcome. Although I didn’t get to try it, I hear the seafood feast on Sundays after brunch is out of this world. Maybe by the end of summer, I’ll get to taste it all. I know one thing – I’m certainly going to try.
• 800 Mount Gretna Road, Elizabethtown; 367-5544
• Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-12 a.m.