J Rocco's Steakhouse and Speakeasy open in Shandaken
By Jay Braman Jr.
There’s a new restaurant in the Shandaken area where one of the most notorious criminals in American history, a former Public Enemy Number One, holds a place of distinction, not only on the wall but also in the heart of the eatery’s owner.
According to Erik Risher, who just opened J Rocco’s Steakhouse and Speakeasy, it was people like Public Enemy Number One, otherwise known as Depression era bank robber and bootlegger John Dillinger, that were some of the region’s first economic developers.
“Prohibition money built the Catskills,” he said with a grin during a recent lunchtime interview in his new place. “Prohibition money built all those old hotels.”
The faces of Dillinger and others of his ilk like Dutch Schultz, Baby Face Nelson, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Al Capone stare at the patrons in J Rocco’s from the authentic looking FBI wanted posters that speckle the walls of the joint.
Outside, a painting of a cigar chomping Johnny Rocco, the infamous gangster made famous by Hollywood bad guy Edward G Robinson, stares you down as you walk in the main entrance.
Threatening, yes. But once inside you breathe a sigh of relief. There’s no fear of a shakedown. No one is aiming a Tommy gun at you. The atmosphere is cozy and comfortable and it is clear from the get go that Risher wants you to enjoy yourself.
“Restaurants are supposed to be fun,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing here.”
Had Florida restaurant
And Rasher’s got some experience. He had another Johnny Rocco’s restaurant down in the Florida Keys, the very place where “Key Largo,” the film that introduced the world to Rocco, was filmed.
Opening the place has not been an easy task, though. Just like Rocco’s hideout in the film, Risher’s new location got hit hard by a hurricane, delaying things until this year.
When Irene swept through it took half of Risher’s property and a good chunk of Route 28 out front along with it. Recovery was long and hard, but with a little luck and a lot of work, the place is shaping up and continues to improve.
As an angler is casting his fly line into the Esopus Creek out back, Risher points to the new quarter-mile of shoreline and explains his plans for a monster-sized deck with an outdoor bar that will be party central this summer.
Breakfasts & bands
“We’re going to have biker breakfasts out here on the weekends with a band and everything,” he said.
Open a little more than a week, J Rocco’s has already seen people from all over walk through the door, coming from as far west as Delhi. Risher says that’s a sign that people in the Catskills are ready to travel for good food.
His menu is traditional steakhouse with Black Angus beef a feature. The stock is raised in New Jersey and shipped to J Rocco’s where it is then prepared on site.
A sign out front boasts “The Best Burger in the Catskills.”
J Rocco’s, located on Route 28 in Shandaken, is open daily for lunch and dinner and features live music on Thursday and Saturday nights.
By the way, if you’re feeling brave, walk in and tell Erik that you want to meet the ghost.
For more information call 688-5099.