Rock-Cola Café: Great food circa 1950 

click to enlarge The quintessential '50s meal — a cheeseburger with fries and a chocolate malt. Photo by Mark Lee.
  • The quintessential '50s meal — a cheeseburger with fries and a chocolate malt. Photo by Mark Lee.

Situated on an industrial stretch of Brookville Road on the city's south east side, Rock-Cola Café is definitely a destination restaurant. If you're in the mood for a hearty slice of fifties nostalgia and some equally heart-stopping grub, then this quirky little establishment is well worth the visit.

Housed in a modest commercial building, Rock-Cola transports you back to a time and place that most of us only know from movies and music. The interior, cozy to say the least, is furnished with a few stools at the counter and a handful of booths, but if you come at an off-hour, as we recently did, then it shouldn't be too hard to get a seat.

From the moment you step in the door, it's fifties all the way: walls and ceiling are festooned with movie posters, newspaper cuttings and plenty of James Dean memorabilia. The booths are equipped with strange little game machines: the kind where you insert a quarter and try to flip it through a basketball hoop. The music, naturally, is all from the era.

Unlike your average greasy spoon, Rock-Cola Café is clean with friendly, efficient service. Orders are taken promptly, and food comes out when it's ready, which on our visit was pretty quickly. Lunch items appear on the Ben-Hur of menus, running to five pages. To do this place justice would require either multiple visits or an army of accomplices. To get a feel for the food, my wife and I ordered a handful of dishes we felt might be representative.

To start, we tried the Jumbo Sampler Basket for $6.99. This consists of fries, onion rings, jalapeno poppers and shrimp, all breaded and deep fried. Everything was clean, crisp and nicely breaded. The jalapeno poppers had a decent kick to them and were clearly house-made, and the shrimp were impressive for their crunchy texture and fresh flavor.

Next came a brace of sandwiches: the Grilled Tenderloin ($5.99) and the 10oz Cheeseburger for $4.99 or $8.99 with fries and a regular drink. The tenderloin, weighing in at 12 ounces uncooked, was done perfectly: tender and packed with flavor. Served on a soft and very fresh bun, it was an excellent sandwich for a casual lunch. The burger, again served simply, was remarkably beefy: Clearly made in-house and without filler, it was the very essence of burger-ness, although it could have been cooked just a little bit less.

Our only complaint about both dishes was the lettuce, which was tired and brown: a disappointment considering the quality of the meat and rolls.

To wash everything down, we chose a chocolate malt ($3.89), which took quite a while to prepare, but was worth every second of the wait. Served in a steel mixing cup, it fairly crackled with malt crystals, but proved so substantial that we had to hoist the white flag and call it a day with full tummies and a smiling wallet.

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