Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rockwood Filling Station: Pizza

The new Rockwood Filling Station Neapolitain Pizzeria opened Wednesday evening on University Dr. sandwiched neatly between Q Shack and Nana's. Yes, Scott Howell is behind it. So is the former Nana's bartender John. I love Scott Howell. He can cook. John is really great too. He was my favorite bartender in town. Now he is my favorite pizza guy. I'm sure the front of house will be excellent in John's capable hands.

Opening night for a restaurant is crazy for everyone involved, and I had a front row seat at the bar. They don't have a liquor license yet so everyone was drinking water or tea or BYOB wine. The old filling station that was also a dry cleaners has been transformed into a darling place. The floors and bar are poured concrete. The walls are a warm yellow beige with bright things on the walls. A large glass wall separates the kitchen from the bar, so it's easy to see the pizzas being made and put into the giant pizza oven. The oven, according to the menu, is over 700 degrees hot, and I was worried someone might get burned! Scott was there making pizzas. He looked focused and happy from my vantage point.

The vibe was good. While I'm sure it was stressful, all of the staff seemed happy and enthusiastic.

I was not really hungry but I felt I must try a starter as well as a pizza. I had the baked meatballs for my starter. Now the menu doesn't say this but the meatballs are made with pork, beef, and duck. DUCK. Duck meatballs! Yum. The meatballs were perfect in every way and served in a simple but flavorful tomato sauce. Run to get some.

I ordered the white pizza for my dinner. It was topped with ricotta, fontina, caramelized onions, and spinach. It needed salt and some garlic. John told me they were working on getting the seasonings just right and the need for more salt was common feedback opening night. The pizza crust was fairly thin, which is how I like it, and ever so slightly burnt around the edges. I look forward to trying the other combinations like the veggie pizza, the pizza margherita and the eggplant pizza.

I kept an eye on everything that came out of the kitchen. The salads looks delicious and I cannot wait to try the antipasti platter. It featured what looked like roasted peppers, proscuitto, cheese, olives, and a deviled egg. I saw milkshakes, ice cream and cannoli go by. Every plate that went back into the kitchen looked licked clean. I took home leftovers, but I would have eaten every bite had it not been for stuffing myself with meatballs. Meatballs with duck!

I must try the cannoli. Not only is cannoli one of my favorite desserts, but also cannoli is a good indicator of a restaurant's attention to detail. Yes, it all hangs on the cannoli, but that's another story.

Give the place a few weeks before you go. Once the staff settles into a routine, the liquor license shows up, the salt and pepper shakers arrive, the cash register software becomes familiar to all, and the flavors and seasonings get adjusted, this place will be great.


Anonymous said...

Against our better judgement, we went on night #2. We fully expect snafus at the beginning of any restaurant, but, based on our experience, Rockwood has a LONG way to go.

It took us 10 minutes to get the Diet Cokes we ordered (no liquor license yet) due to Scott Howell calling the entire staff together for an impromptu meeting in the front of the house - approximately five feet from our table. He gave them a quick refresher within earshot of the patrons about when to place orders, filling empty glasses, not standing around and moving people in and out.

Even after that talking-to, our waiter forgot to put in our order for our pizzas, so we had to wait even longer.

I do have to say our salads were fantastic, but we had to send our pizzas back. The bottoms were burned absolutely black. There's a difference between char and charcoal that I don't think the kitchen has yet discerned. Our waiter took them away and the kitchen hastily made us two new pizzas that were partially under-cooked: we could taste the flour & raw dough, but you better believe the bottoms were still burned. They're cooking the pizzas too fast and / or the oven doesn't seem to be fine tuned just yet.

We certainly want Scott and Rockwood to succeed. We'll give it a few months before trying him again. I hope he can quickly get things turned around.

K said...

They will get it turned around. I told you to wait at least three weeks before going, but you didn't listen! : - )

K said...

By the way, Thai Cafe was a complete train wreck for at least a month when it opened.

Salamanzar & Grand Poobah Wine Swami said...

It's really unreasonable to post anything negative about a restaurant on day two. If you are going to give a preliminary report, stick to the positive things about the dinner and leave out the negative until you give them a second shot in a few weeks or months. Anonymous, I can't take your opinion with any weight if you post anonymously to begin with. - Salamanzar

Nick said...

So early adopters - and people who were excited for the restaurant to open and wanted to go immediately - should expect a bad meal, and then be expected to keep their mouths shut about it? That doesn't make any sense.

I don't think one should expect the most scintillating dining experience ever in the first week of a restaurant's existence, but it is reasonable to expect things not to suck. And not to have fevered staff meetings on the house floor.

I'm not saying that Rockwood is no good (I'm going tonight, based on the positive review). But a bad meal is a bad meal, no matter where it falls in an establishment's lifespan.

K said...

Early adopters should cut a restaurant some slack. I disagree that a bad meal is a bad meal. A bad meal at Nana's is a major screw up. A bad meal at Q Shack is a major screw up. A bad meal the first month of Rockwood is growing pains.

I might remind the gentle readers that I very much enjoyed my meal and the experience of the chaos of the grand opening. In case you missed it the first two times I said it, THE MEATBALLS w/ DUCK are great.

I for one am delighted that this place has opened, and I'm rooting for Scott and John.

Matthew said...

While they may be the only place in the area that has duck in their meatballs, it is certainly not a new concept. Though most people use beef, pork and lamb I believe it is. Maybe it's veal, chuck and pork. Sounds good either way. I'd be curious to hear back from someone exactly one month from now on here.

K said...

Really? I've never read an Italian cookbook.

I love being patronized on my own blog.

K said...

Beef, pork and veal.

Dawne said...

My husband and I went to Rockwood Filling Station tonight (Day 3), and it was absolutely delicious. The Caesar salad was a little disappointing, but the chicken wings were unique, the calamari and sauce were very good (and spicy!), and the eggplant luv pizza was something I'd order over and over again.

K said...

I wondered about the wings. When I was there a couple were eating them next to me. The wings smelled tasty. I wanted to ask, "So, how do those compare to Hooters?" but I chickened out. said...

We stopped by but it didn't appear to be accessible for wheelchairs, anyone notice a ramp there? We didn't stop to find out because the parking lot was full.

Nick said...

Well, after defending a commenter's right to complain about a restaurant in it's opening week, I have to say I did not have the same bad experience that anonymous had. Rockwood Filling Station's pizza is really, really good, and the service was fine.

One complaint; what's the story with that music? It's a constant barrage of elevatorized muzak from hell. Not soothing.

georg said...

If you check out the photo at the top of the Carpe Durham review of Rockwood, I believe that's a ramp leading off to the left.

SBelle said...

Glad to discover your blog. Moving my son to Chapel Hill in two weeks and will always be looking for great places to eat.

Matthew said...

I apologize. Didn't mean to come across as patronizing.

Anonymous said...

Saturday, 7/26. My husband and I were so excited to try the "pizza" at Rockwood. We were seated quickly, greeted by our waiter, and served drinks in a timely manner. That is about as good as our meal got. We each ordered a salad. The ceaser dressing was delicious however it was drizzled over just 4 leaves of lettuce. The croutons on my field greens salad may have chipped my back molar. I will find out on Monday after I see my dentist. Seriously, these things were like rocks with a scent of butter.

After 30 minutes we received our pizza. I will give credit for the creative shape of the dough. I think they truly captured the shape of an amoeba. Gazing down at my creation, I saw half of my pizza actually covered with toppings and the other half filled with a liquid resembling tomato sauce.

The sauce tasting like a cross between Campbell's Tomato soup and Pacifica Brand tomato soup that I was forced to eat because there was nothing else left in the pantry. My basil was burnt, the middle of the pizza was uncooked, and I may have torn my right rotator cuff as I attempted to cut the pizza. They do provide a large knife for you to do the honors.

My husband said he enjoyed his anchovy, olives, caramelized onions, and mozzarella cheese pizza. Keep in mind, this comment was made after 4 drinks. He then said the anchovies were the best part because it gave the pizza a lot of flavor. Yea, salt can do wonders. Thank god he shared some of his olives so that my Margarita pizza had a chance.

As I left the resturant, I agreed that I would try Rockwood again. Give me a couple months. Right now I am just hoping that this moves through me quickly and that I can move on with my life. Ginger Ale and some therapy may help.

Rockwood! Get it together!

Anonymous said...

Visited 7/27 and generally enjoyed the food and atmosphere. The meatballs are delicious. The pizza was delicious, though friend ordered chicken liver pizza and it liver wasn't cooked enough. The service was good. The icecream (I had strawberry) was off the charts good. The beer was way overpriced ($6 pints). I liked it and would go back for the food but wouldn't order alcohol. -mc

Anonymous said...

I am one of those crazy fools who has already been there more than once (three times, in fact, and I may go back again this week). My only negatives: the inconsistent service, those rock-hard croutons, and the silliness of having to request that your pizza be pre-sliced (otherwise you have to try doing it with those silly steak knives). Everything else is terrific.

Chris said...

My wife and I went this past Saturday (7/26) with some high hopes for good pizza, but we left disappointed for a variety of reasons.

First when we arrived, the hostess was too busy chatting with someone she knew there to help people that were coming inside to get a table. After around 5 minutes, she helped the four of us that had been waiting for her just to take our names down. We were told 10-15 minutes since there were just two of us so we went outside and sat on the stairs to wait.

Quite a while later, after seeing other groups that came well after us get seated, the hostess finally comes out to us and says that she hadn't seen us, even though we hadn't moved from where we were sitting, and she had never called out my name if she didn't see me. So it took around 30 minutes to get seated, which was a little slow compared to what we were told.

Once we sat down (it was a bit hard to get to our seats, they need a better traffic pattern in there), we ordered the meatballs and then one pizza each (the eggplant for her, and the ham and egg for me). The meatballs came fairly quickly and were tasty, but there was a lot of extra sauce there and no bread or other starch to soak it up with. Adding that would make that appetizer, or just the wait overall, much better.

Once our pizzas arrived, they looked good but once we inspected them closer, there were some issues. Both were charred on one side, but barely even browned on the other side. The level of char was pretty good, but the other side wasn't cooked nearly enough. Maybe they are still tweaking the oven, but they need to be cooked more evenly all around. Her eggplant was also far too soggy, and my ham and egg had too much ham (I know most people would want as much meat as you can get, but it just overpowered everything else), but the cheese was fantastic. Having to cut it with a knife and fork was a pain as well and I would have them cut it in the future.

For dessert we went with the Bailey's Coffee Crunch ice cream, which had looked great from the minute we got the menu. There's no way to describe the ice cream other than a total disaster. Icy, not creamy, with very little flavor, blueberries that added nothing to enhance the flavor (blueberries + coffee/baileys?), and it made me long for the Haggen Dasz that we had at home in the freezer. Even the small cookie that came with the ice cream (which our waitress insisted was fantastic and freshly made when we ordered) was neither freshly made nor amazing.

The meal went downhill from the appetizer, and I can't see myself going back. No alcohol and a bill past $40 isn't a good value to me at all, and the food wasn't close to the level of the price. They have a lot of things they can work out and things will improve, but it would take a lot of good reviews before I would return.

SportsBizPro said...

My wife and I tried out Rockwood on Thursday, July 31st. We both came away unimpressed.

We each started with a beer, which apparently ran us $5.50 a piece. I thought it was a bit pricey, especially for a week night. I ordered he "Lettuce Wedge" which really wasn't a wedge at all. The croutons were hard as a rock and from some of the other posts, I see that that was how they were meant to be. I got a simple sausage and cheese pizza and I thought the sauce lacked flavor. It was undercooked in the middle as well.

Overall, not a good restaurant as of yet. I was really hoping to have a good, unique pizza place near my house. It's going to be hard for me to give this place another shot. Maybe in a few months.

joegz said...

Overall we had a relatively good experience when we went on Aug 1 (yes a Friday). We were seated immediately (we were only two) but could see that large seating parties had taken over most of the tables. By 30 minutes later we could see the line forming to get seated.

We went mainly to try the food. Calamari was one of the best we had with a simple Aioli dipping sauce. Salads were OK though the croutons to me were very stale.

Pizza was a clear cut winner for us. I had my own creation with goat cheese assorted toppings while my partner had a vegeterian type (names escapes me presently). We were both really happy with the crust which was the key component for us.

Wine list was short but OK. I guess for the type of establishment maybe it doesn't need to be extensive.

Only snafu was the wobbly table that we couldn't get them to correct but we lived with it.

I generally make my own pizza at home from scratch but it is nice to know that if I am just not in the spirit I can just go down the street for a good pie.

Meg said...

Anonymous, with injuries like that from a MEAL (cracked molar, torn rotator cuff), you JUST MAY BE a hypocondriac... or just a jerk.

Megan said...

I love Rockwood! We went last night and had a fantastic meal. We will definitely return.

I agree with Meg. And the overpriced comment...well, maybe you should stick with McDonald's.

John Langlois said...

My wife and I visited Rockwood for the first time last week. The parking was terrible. The place was hopping. I wasn't expecting much. Then they brought out the wings. Smothered in olive oil, herbs and garlic, they were fantastic.

We shared a pie with sausage topping. The sausage reminded me of the kind I used to eat growing up in Chicago. That's a compliment.

I was so happy with the food that I searched out the owner, John, and thanked him. I don't do that often. I'm going back ...

Anonymous said...

Meg, the difference between hyperbole and hypochondriasis is often confused ;-)