With the “iffy” weather we’ve been having, it is good to have a place to get warm, dry and, oh yes, get a bite to eat. If you are on the Bristol Highway side of north Johnson City, one of the best restaurants to fill your bill is Rocks Wood-Fired Pizza & Grill, or “Rocks” for short.
The restaurant has been an anchor of the Northridge Center business complex going on five years now, with a clientele centered on professionals, young families with children and a hard core of “foodies” enchanted by the creations manifesting themselves from within Rocks very busy kitchen.
As mentioned earlier, Rocks is the five-year and current tenant of the restaurant property anchoring the toward-town section of Northridge Center. In addition to the 80-seat capacity inside dining area there is also room for another hundred or so on a very comfortable and spacious front porch, uniquely floored in copper pennies. Inside there is a well-stocked bar with domestic and artisanal beers available on tap and by the bottle. The bar also stocks a good selection of curated domestic wines and spirits, and can sling a cocktail your way should you desire one. The spotless restrooms are to be found toward the rear of the inside dining area.
The well-trained and friendly staff is young, mostly female, knowledgeable and attentive without being obtrusive. Our server Autumn is a good example. After seating us at table, Autumn stayed to assist us with our menu choices. When asked by my dining partner if a particular entrée contained caraway seeds, Autumn made a special trip to the kitchen to question the chef, then brought back the glad news of “no caraway seeds used.”
Appetizer: Cheese bread with marinara sauce
While this was going on, I asked Autumn to bring us some of Rocks cheese bread with marinara sauce ($9) as our appetizer. This proved to be a hand-formed pizza crust roughly oval in shape, topped with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and baked in Rocks’ wood-fired pizza oven. The marinara sauce was good if a bit loose, its use of oregano being noticeable and imparting a pungent note to the flavorful cheese bread that was momentarily off-putting. The addition of some quality tomato paste to the sauce would both thicken the marinara’s consistency and tone down the oregano to a manageable level.
Jerk chicken pasta and Greek side salad
My choice was one of Rocks’ Main Plates, the Jerk Chicken Pasta ($13) with an a la carte Greek Salad ($5) as my side order. The jerk chicken had the “Spicy” symbol attached to its menu entry. I found the sliced breast of chicken that formed the basis of the dish was indeed spicy, a touch of fine-ground cayenne and flaked red pepper providing just enough of the required heat level to do the job. The chicken was admirably complemented by the inclusion of chopped fresh asparagus, sliced button mushrooms and bowtie pasta swirled with a Creole-styled Alfredo sauce that was spicy without hiding what the rest of the dish tasted like. My inclusion of a Greek salad was serendipitous, making my main course taste even better.
Reuben sandwich with homemade potato chips
For her supper, my dining partner ordered one of Rocks’ Reuben sandwiches ($10) on toasted sourdough bread with the house-made chips as her side order. After two bites, my dining partner declared that Rocks kitchen knew how to correctly assemble a Reuben sandwich, stacking thin-sliced corned beef topped with Swiss cheese and their own sauerkraut (with nary a caraway seed in evidence) with Rocks’ “boom-boom” sauce on the side.
Being ketchup & mayonnaise-based, the boom-boom sauce made a savory dip for my dining partner’s Reuben sandwich and house-made potato chips, getting just the right amount of sauce on each bite.
The bottom line
My dining partner and I had a great time at Rocks Wood-Fired Pizza & Grill. The venue was warm and comfortable, Autumn’s service was intelligent, friendly and unobtrusive and our supper was positively scrumptious. We are scheduling a return trip to see if their wood-fired pizzas are as good as their cheese bread appetizer is. You cannot go wrong dining out at Rocks Wood-fired Pizza & Grill. Stop in and see for yourself.