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Rocky Hill Inn NJ re-opening 11/08

To begin, the old rendition of this restaurant, Sante Fe Grille was a wonderful place to go and have a great meal at a reasonable price. That being said, the new version of this establishment, Rocky Hill Inn is quite a disappointment. The restaurant is divided into two distinct genres. One being tavern style dining which was described to my wife and I as the fun side of the restaurant, and the dining room side, a more formal room, which was too bright and did not live up to the sought after ambiance. The staff were all very friendly and accomodating, but the food just did not live up to their attempts to please. Aside from a limited menu, only one special was offered. Both my wife and I chose a fish selection, and unfortunately each element of both dishes was bland. Since the old Sante Fe Grille always seemed to impress with exciting fusions of flavor, we were terribly disappointed. We ordered one selection from the pub menu and one from the more formal menu. From the pub menu we ordered fish and chips. The portion was small, the chips were soggy and the meal came in a cone designed only for finger food. The more formal entree we ordered was the special. It was described as an Ahi tuna with a confit of tomato on a bed of Tuscan beans. We asked specifically that it be prepared very rare. It came out, at best, medium, ruining the taste of the tuna. The beans were completely without seasoning. All-in-all a truly uninspiring experience!

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  1. Our experience here at the newly opened Rocky Hill Inn was a bit better than the OP's. We stopped going to Sante Fe a while ago after too many bland meals of food we could just as well prepare at home.

    The new RHI is far from a disappointment! If anything, it's a step back in the right direction. We liked the sprucing up the place has received. The tavern dining room has been redecorated a bit with a new long banquet and tables along the wall. In the tavern, there's now a very large selection of micro and craft brews on tap along with an extensive beer & wine selection.

    We've never enjoyed dining in the more formal rooms as they've always reminded us of dining at granny's place with the Victorian fixtures and finishes. The formal rooms still appear uninviting to us so we'll continue to dine in the tavern. Our suggestion would be to dim the lights, soften the decor and bring the room up to the 21st century.

    We had dinner at the new RHI last week and the food was for the most part, very good. For apps we ordered mussels and the beet salad. The mussels were well prepared and we'd order again while the beet salad was the low point of the evening. The beet salad turned out to be a plate of baby arugula "stems" (hardly any leaf) covering a fine chop of beets with a hint of caramelized onions and one hidden dab of goat cheese somewhere in the mix. The correct name for what was served should have been Green Stems with minced beet bits! Hopefully, they'll take the knife away from the salad prep station and serve a hearty plate of whole or quartered beets on top of some greens.

    The entrees were both very good - the tamarind glazed wild salmon was very flavorful, perfectly cooked and a large portion. The pappardella pasta with wild boar ragu brought back memories of a wonderful dish I had in Pisa. Perfect wide ribbons of thin and light pasta with a hearty ragu of wild boar. Look forward to ordering both again.

    We have been avoiding desserts but were talked into trying their carrot cake. The cake was super moist and had a rustic, homemade consistency. It was one of the best we've had and turns out it was homemade. Really good.

    Overall, a very good start for the new RHI and we look forward to dining here often!

    1. The new restaurant has been reviewed by The "Artful" Diner at nj.com whose experience was more in line with foody4life's:


      Personally, I don't see the point of reviewing a restaurant that has been open for less than a month, except perhaps to establish a baseline. Nevertheless, TAD's comments are encouraging.

      1. I dissagree with Madshtr as well. We stopped going to the Sante Fe Grill after several very salty meals and under-cooked meat dishes all served by average waitstaff that did not react in a positive or customer service-oriented way when these items were brought to their attention. As Foody4life says, the new RHI is far from disappointing and several steps in the right direction. To their credit, they have addressed the concerns regarding the two separate dinning areas and menus by offering both menus in either section of the estab. All of my meals there have been great - the portions are large and their prices are average (a nice change from the neighboring estab.) I have been so impressed that I even gave several gift certificates out for the RHI over the holidays. Looking forward to a new year and more visits to the new Rocky Hill Inn!

        1. I have to strongly disagree as well..... having been completely disappointed with the Sante Fe Grille for quite sometime I have been thrilled with my several visits to the new Rocky Hill Inn. I found the physical improvements to be warm, inviting and elegant. And the food and service to be even more impressive. I'll start with the service which was a welcoming combination of helpful and attentive without being overbearing and effusive - which I do not appreciate. The food was absolutely delicious. On my first trip I had the Beet Salad to start, followed by the Salmon. I found both to be great and the flavors of the Salmon were wonderful. On my next visit I had the Tune which was cooked perfectly. My dinner companion had the Grilled Pork Chop and the Strip Steak and raved about both. All-in-all a truly INSPIRING experience and I look forward to many more!

          1. My wife had been told that this restaurant changed and now had a chef that worked at high end restaurants, so we decided to go. We were very disappointed in the lack of staff and quality of the food. The old creakiness of the place was a turnoff. Our food was half good, meaning the onion rings were burnt, and the wrap with brie was cold. Who serves brie cold? I would never return, even if this place changed owners again.

            1. The Rocky Hill Inn serves a really great burger.

              It's a juicy burger of blended strip steak, short rib and pancetta - topped with cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, grilled onions and a sunnyside-up egg on a brioche bun. It was recently awarded 4th place in the NJ Monthly best burger contest.


              Sadly it's beyond frustrating to try to get one of these award winners on a Sunday evening at the RHI.

              A group of friends have attempted on two recent Sunday evenings to grab a burger and a beer at RHI. The first occasion was a couple weeks ago when they were running a Sunday evening buy a burger get a free pint special. Five of us ordered burgers, waited quite a while only to get an update from our server that the kitchen had two buns left. So three of us took one for the team and had a "naked burger" with a beer.

              Last night, we arrive around 7 with a res'v for our expanded group of nine and find the RHI to again be short staffed (no busboys, a new hostess and a couple servers to tend to a busy house). No manager in sight. The obviously stressed servers were working at warp speed to cover the tables, manage the orders, deliver food and drinks, bus plates, etc.

              After we grabbed our table, we ended up going to the bar to order drinks and corralling the hostess for some water before putting in our order for burgers. A bit of confusion ensued as our server is not entirely familiar with the menu and other aspects of what's available. Later we learn a keg of a favorite beer has run dry and a different beer will be substituted in it's place along with some others minor snafu's.

              We received our burgers, cooked to order and complete with buns (thanks to the server sequestering buns when he saw our res'v). Our server graciously and unexpectedly provided a round of beers in consideration of our previous visit. Great guy and we truly felt bad for him on both occasions.

              The burgers at RHI are really good. The coffee was reported to be excellent. There's a huge selection of craft beers on tap and our server tried to stay on top of the evening's challenges.

              Sorry to say there's not much else to rave about for dining Sunday evenings at the RHI. Maybe better for RHI to use Sunday evenings to rest, reload, restock, etc.?

              8 Replies
              1. re: Foody4life

                RHI is now at the bottom of the bucket for front of house understaffed service.

                Once again we decided to go to nearby RHI last night for one of their really great burgers and a beer. Once again there's 1 (one, uno, less than 2) server to handle the entire tavern dining room and formal dining room.

                The guy's capable but come on RHI, hire some front of house staff, train them, and have an experience manager on duty that can fill in the holes as needed. There was a very young hostess and a busboy and there was what appeared to be a new hire shadowing the solo waiter. But it's beyond frustrating to dine here with the warp speed passing by of the waiter and "..... oh by the way I'm on may way to the kitchen is there anything you...... " see ya later dude.

                Lesson learned, we're not going back for a while.

                1. re: Foody4life

                  So now are we all uninspired by the experience? While I did not comment on staff, assuming shortcomings were due to the new menu/owners, I based my review on the food purely. Seemed all reviews following my review loved the new RHI.....never went back what happened to the new RHI?

                  1. re: madshtr

                    I've had a burger at Rocky Hill in the past and it was good. They were competing this past weekend at Burger Mania at Mercer County Park where I judged, and unfortunately, they did not submit their burger as requested. The rules were that all burgers were supposed to be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees. Don't ask me where they came up with that criteria as I have no idea. See the attached pics for what they submitted. Needless to say their burger was not judged.

                    Even if it were judged, it wouldn't have stood a chance. The burger from Elements Princeton blew every thing away. And not that all burgers arrived 10 minutes apart, and were numbered. The 5 judges had no idea where each burger was from. -mJ

                    1. re: njfoodies

                      njfoodies, tough life, how did you get that gig, a judge at a burger contest. I'm so jealous :)

                      PS: how many places entered the contest

                      1. re: njfoodies

                        Facebook said that the best burger was from Firkin Tavern. elements had the "best other", whatever that means. Can you clarify?

                        I assume the burger from elements was the so-called Peterson's Burger. Yes?

                        1. re: ambrose

                          tom246: the marketing firm that put on this event follows our blog (not much to follow as of late because of time), and they know my love for a good burger and asked me to judge. It was pretty awesom, and the participants were:

                          • Killarney’s Publick House – (Hamilton) 3rd year
                          • Katmandu – (Trenton) 2nd year
                          • HOB Tavern – (Bordentown) 2nd year
                          • Gary and Lenny's New York Deli – Route 1 (Lawreneville)
                          • Trenton Social – Trenton
                          • Rocky Hill Tavern – Rocky Hill
                          • Princeton Sports Bar & Grill – Princeton
                          • Oliver, A-Bistro, Bordentown
                          • Chesterfield Inn – Chesterfield, NJ
                          • Firkin Tavern – Ewing
                          • Elements – Princeton

                          Elements won the best beef category, but not sure it was the Peterson burger as I've never had a burger there. I don't think I've ever even seen a burger on the menu there, so I am guessing they are just on their lunch menu. This burger was made from ground short rib that was smoked, and topped with a great smoked bacon. The flavors in this burger were truly amazing, and I was very impressed!

                          Best other was a burger made from something other than beef. The submissions included anything from turkey, chicken, to bean, to pastrami. Great flavors in some of them, while others were kind of disgusting...LOL! But yes, the Firkin turkey burger won this class.

                          Killarney's Tavern took the cake for the popular vote. This was determined by all who came to visit and cast their ballot. There were just over 5000 votes cast, and they beat out the HOB Tavern by just 9 votes. Pretty awesome.

                          From what I heard, some of the places serving the $1 sliders were great, while others were terrible. The burgers that we judged were not the same as the places were selling for a buck, but that is not surprising. Even so, it kind of stinks, and I nope next year they will do something similiar to what is being judged, but for $1, what do ya want?

                          Regardless, it was a great day, and I look forward to it next year on August 4th, again at Mercer County Park! Tom246: keep your calenedar open for September 10th this year as well! -mJ

                          1. re: njfoodies

                            Thank you for the detailed summary. The elements burger does indeed sound like the one they serve at both brunch and lunch. I think I need to make a trip to Princeton!

                            1. re: ambrose

                              I need to get there for lunch one of these days as well. I would love to try that burger as a whole.

                              Overall though, Burger Mania was great, and some other burgers to note were from Oliver-A Bistro, as well as the HOB Tavern in Bordentown. Both were delicious, and both were right there. The burger from Kat Man Du in Trenton was also delicious with some Southwestern flair. Trenton Social also had a killer submission for the "Best Other" category with a blend of beef, pork, and veal, with a slice of fresh cucumber and a Thai chili sauce. This was refreshing and delicious! I would go to any one of these restaurants for a burger....

                              All in all, a great event. It's a shame that Rocky Hill's burger was so undercooked though... -mJ