Good Eats: The Rocket
Sam Burnham, Curator
We’ve got a lot of loves at ABG. Among them are locally owned businesses and long established institutions. I’ve got a perfect meshing of the two for you. For this one we’re going to Jacksonville...Alabama, not Florida. This review is of a gem of a place in Calhoun County. Let’s talk about The Rocket.
I first walked into this establishment in the fall of 1993. When I walked in earlier this year it looked just like it did 27 years ago. I’m pretty sure it lookedp the same when it opened in 1958. The only change I noticed since my first visit was some of the ladies working behind the counter hadn’t been born as of then. That made me feel kind of old.
But it made me feel better knowing that this local icon was holding up to the test of time. Same furniture, same decor, same everything.
The Rocket is a BBQ joint. Let me say this, you aren’t going to see The Rocket on TrueSouth or Chef’s Table BBQ. It’s not that kind of place. Their BBQ is solid, it’s good. But they don’t have a trophy case. In fact, I don’t typically eat the BBQ when I go there. Coach Drew does and speaks well of it.
There’s a backstory to what I order. Just around the corner from our childhood home was our own local spot. They had a twin burger basket that everyone on that side of town still raves about. A simple concept: two burgers and fries in a basket. But Peyton’s is gone and their baskets (and the Evel Knievel pinball machine) went with them. So when I saw the twin burger basket on the menu at The Rocket, I had to know. It was perfect. 27 years later, it’s still perfect.
One of the best things about The Rocket is just how local it is. I mentioned there’s no trophy case but there is a plethora of local articles framed on the wall. And you’ll see people who’ve been going there since 1998, 1988, 1968. Lord willing, they’ll be going in 2028. This isn’t gourmet. It’s not an oddball joint with a cult following. This is over six decades of sustained support by the locals. It’s 100% small town phenomenon.
The dining room is pretty small. They have a strong takeout business, partially because a table is a commodity during lunch rush. We got there on Georgia time so the place was pretty empty. But we watched the crowd roll in. All the tables filled up. Folks flowed in and out with takeout orders.
They have a pickup window. It’s not a drive thru. You can walk up and place orders as well as pickup call-in orders without going inside. There is currently shielding between the few booths as well as the counter. COVID precautions are in place. The strong takeout game got them through the lockdown. It will continue to help them thrive.
And the twin burger basket was on point, just like always.
So I leave you with this tip. That little stone BBQ joint on Pelham Road South is worth a stop. Dine in or take out, it’s highly recommended. If you find yourself anywhere near it, check it out.
Good Eats - The Deadrise
So I gave a quick overview of Ft. Monroe previously. With that much to see in one place you’re bound to get hungry during your visit. The good news is that you don’t have to wander far to fix that problem.
If I told you there was a great spot for seafood at a marina just outside the gates of a Civil War era fort, your mind might go to Fish Tales in Richmond Hill. And you would be right. But Fish Tales is a bit of a drive from Ft. Monroe, especially if you’re hungry.
So we’ll try another marina. Just outside the fort proper but still within the modern limits of the installation you’ll find the Old Point Clear Marina. If you arrive at the marina you can’t miss The Deadrise.
While this name sounds like something out of an evangelical eschatological thriller movie, the term is a reference to a way of measuring the depth of a boat’s hull. It’s a fitting moniker for a restaurant in a marina.
A marina is always a tempting sight. Rows of boats, particularly sailboats, tug at the heart strings and make me want to shove off in search of adventure or solitude...or perhaps both. The Old Point Clear Marina was no exception. From atop the stairs at the restaurant’s entrance you can see quite a varied collection of pleasure crafts.
With easy access to Hampton Roads, Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic, as well as numerous rivers, the boat traffic is abundant. A lot of vessels coming and going on a beautiful day. It adds to the overall ambiance of the location.
As of this visit, Virginia’s COVID-19 restrictions were pretty strict, perhaps draconian. Reduced seating capacity made for a bit of a wait but, again, the scenery was nice as was the weather and the company so it was only a mild inconvenience.
We were greeted and served by a friendly and helpful staff. The hostess was energetic and her work posture was quite kinetic. Our waitress was knowledgeable about the menu and was helpful as we made our selections.
Until someone puts warmouth in the menu, flounder will be the best actual fish you’ll get in a place such as this. Obviously shellfish are always going to be good but I saw a waitress carrying a flounder filet that belonged on a forklift so that’s what I went with. It was paired with fried oysters, and served with fries, hush puppies, and surprisingly good slaw.
They offer nachos as an entree. This is a delightfully fresh option. The components are plenteous. It’s where nachos, a seafood entree, and a salad come together. The ingredients combine nicely to form a cohesive dish.
With good food, great service, and that waterfront atmosphere, The Deadrise is a recommended part of a Ft. Monroe visit.
Oh, and one last thing, they have a posted sign down by the dock. It’s a warning to boaters, fishermen. This area has a long history. These waters have been fought over. An observer could have witnessed the first ironclad battle, the famous duel between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor from this location. That battle, along with plenty others, means that it’s not unheard of to find unexploded ordnance. It is intended to keep people safe but it also reminds us of the history of the area. It’s not just an abstract idea in a book. That history, the good and bad, still lives among us today.
Sam Burnham, Curator
If you aren’t familiar with Cartersville, Georgia or if your familiarity is a recent development, you probably wouldn’t imagine a sleepy little town of mostly miners and farmers. In the 1980s Cartersville was still a quiet little town, so if we go back to the 1940s, mentally, it will help set the stage for this story. This one is a legend passed to us as fact. The source is reputable so we’ll take it as fact until convinced otherwise.
This story begins in 1931. Herbert Hoover was President. A man named Fred Garrison set up shop, slinging burgers at the corner of Main Street and Gilmer Street in Downtown Cartersville. It seems an unlikely time to be opening a small business in a sleepy small town of miners and farmers. But 89 years later, 4-Way Lunch is still slinging burgers. In all that time they’ve never had a telephone.
Sometime in the 1930s, 4-Way hired a young man named Butter Ross. I don’t think his mama named him “Butter” but I don’t ask Superman what his real name is so I’m not asking for Butter’s birth certificate either.
Shortly thereafter the entire world went to war and Butter Ross went went with it. He did his duty and served his country. He fought honorably against the Axis powers. He returned to Cartersville as a hero with a dream. He wanted to open his own diner, sling his own burgers, be his own man. He wanted to hang his own name over his own door. So he announced his intentions to open his own place just around the corner.
In 2020, Cartersville is becoming a happening place. They have two world class museums and a Kroger with a bar in it but it’s still a relatively small town. In 1946 Cartersville was barely on the map. The idea of two diners operating less than the length of Weinman Stadium apart was unthinkable. The competition would be brutal. This town just wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
The management at the 4-Way begged Butter not to do it. They even warned him, “you’re gonna start a war!” But Butter was determined. “It won’t be my first war. And I ain’t never lost.” True to his words, Butter didn’t lose. In fact, his diner is still open as well. For both places to survive 74 years in such proximity in a small town is astonishing. The biggest takeaway is that they both had to be on top of their game every day. A bad day for one could mean its demise.
Today you can find a dozen or so places to eat within walking distance of this metaphorical battlefield. Regionally recognized chains and excellent local choices have added serious competition for the lunch crowd. There are more comfortable options with much larger menus. Despite the added pressure, the original two belligerents are still going strong.
The 4-Way boasts 10 diner stools at the bar in the main room. The back room, a remnant of segregation days, can hold two or three customers. No one cares what color you are now, all seats are first come, first serve. The only color that matters is green, as in cash. Your card is worthless here. They don’t even have a phone, much less a card reader. With so few seats the menu is small. All meals are made to order, meaning they make it, you order it, they immediately place it in front of you. No waiting. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Enjoy it but get to eating because someone is probably waiting on your seat. A gravy burger with chili cheese fries and a sweet tea is a fine meal.
Over at Ross Diner the setting is a bit more relaxed. With at least twice the seating things aren’t quite as rushed. Everyone sits around a u-shaped bar while the waitresses work through the middle. There’s a full kitchen in the back as opposed to just cooking everything right behind the bar like they do at 4-Way. It takes longer to get your food but it is made fresh. A fried pie with ice cream is an excellent choice and give you a chance to eat at both diners on the same visit to town.
So ABG has now given you a tip on how to get lunch and desert at two places but only using one parking space. You can add in some great shopping as well as enjoying the fantastic architecture of historic downtown. You’ll also be doing your part, serving honorably in the Great Cartersville Diner War, 74 years and still going strong.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire