J. Rocco’s Steakhouse and Speakeasy in Shandaken

Ulster County gets a new chop shop

Carnivores roaming about near Shandaken in the past couple of months will have noticed a new restaurant in the building on Route 28 once occupied by the long-gone Loretta Charles Wood Grill. It’s called J. Rocco’s Steakhouse and Speakeasy, and one of my dedicated foodie spies reports that the steaks and salads are very good. No raves for the vegetable sides, but the Mabel burger, named after the owner’s 15-year-old Newfoundland dog, definitely gets the nod. My friend, who’s given to menu tampering and sending things back to the kitchen for touch-ups, mentioned that the servers were “especially nice and accommodating.” So that’s very promising.

The décor pays tribute to the gangsters and bootleggers whose Prohibition loot helped bankroll the famous old Catskills hotels. Or that’s according to J. Rocco’s owner, Erik Risher. Dutch Schultz, at least, reputedly took time off from shooting people and distributing hooch to get a little relaxation in the region. Legend has it that he buried a steel box of treasure somewhere near Phoenicia. Anyway, at the restaurant, FBI wanted posters of Dutch, Machine Gun Kelly, Al Capone and other members of the gangland hit parade adorn the walls, and there’s a portrait of Edward G. Robinson as Johnny Rocco himself, the fictional mobster in Key Largo modeled on the only too real mobster Lucky Luciano.

So that (and the booze) are the Speakeasy part. As for the menu, it’s traditional steakhouse with daily specials. Risher’s son, Remington, says the biggest sellers so far are the 16-ounce New York strip (which costs only $17) and the 24-ounce T-bone (for $28). Runners up include surf and turf ($22) and eggplant parm ($14). House-made desserts include classics like cheesecake, key lime pie, and blueberry pie.

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When Erik Risher took over the building, the post-Loretta Charles owner had just about gutted it, leaving only some moldy carpeting behind. Risher refurbished the place, staining the hardwood floors and removing the floor of the loft space to reveal vaulted ceilings, so it feels airy. “It’s got a nice old ’20s atmosphere,” Remington says. Airier still will be a project in the works: a large dining deck overlooking the Esopus with an outdoor bar, which should be finished in the next couple of months.

J. Rocco’s is open daily for lunch and dinner. Live music a couple of nights a week. No Web site yet, so call for info.

» Visit J. Rocco’s Steakhouse and Speakeasy in Shandaken, NY
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