Excitement and rejuvenation fill the former Pure Eats space in the Ice House as Rocktown Kitchen gets ready to open a full-service, casual yet upscale dining restaurant in downtown. With locally sourced meats, vegetables, craft brews, wines, and décor, Rocktown Kitchen brings a farm-to-table experience to guests who will begin enjoying this new spot in May. That’s right…less than a month away!
As Chef Kristo gives me a tour of the building, it’s exciting to see his designs coming together as he elaborately describes the layout of the restaurant. The building, part of the original Harrisonburg Ice House, was built in 1934. There are exposed beams that reflect the heritage and craftsmanship that went into the original build. The handmade square floor pieces remain, which were fit together to overhang and disguise what lay beneath: freezers where ice blocks were kept. I glance up and see numbers on an exposed beam above what will be the bar area. “The numbers indicated the truck number that the blocks of ice went to,” explains Chef Kristo. “This was originally the Cassco Ice House, and a loading dock for trucks that sold ice,” he adds as I continue to admire and appreciate the uniqueness of Rocktown Kitchen’s ‘new’ location. Soon, signs will be completed which will add to the Industrial feel of the Ice House area as well as give welcome notice to visitors traveling on Main Street.
I’ve been in this location before, attending meetings and social gatherings with friends and colleagues. The space feels fresh, more rejuvenated, more like: restoration. Oddly enough, Restoration was the name of Chef Kristo’s former restaurant, located in Crozet. Kristo and his wife Mira wanted to find an independent location, where they could begin a new concept for sharing their love of food and hospitality.
“I’ve been working in the kitchen since age 14,” says Kristo. I expected him to go on that he had always dreamed of being a Chef, and a facilitator of hospitality. However, this wasn’t the case.
“I didn’t want be a chef right away,” he explains. “I started working in the kitchen during school. Originally, it was just a job, and I liked that I always had a free, warm meal. After a while, I just kept going back to cooking. I’d look for other jobs and then take one that involved being in the kitchen.”
His knack for creating superb food and inviting atmospheres has only grown as his leadership roles have developed. Before Restoration, Chef Kristo worked for 13 years at the Glenmore Country Club in Keswick, VA just outside of Charlottesville. Starting as the newest addition, he willingly accepted a position assisting with operations in the Pool House kitchen. His leadership qualities ever-present, he was quickly promoted to manager then was asked to become the Head Sous Chef for the Country Club. After 5 years at the helm, he became the Executive Chef.
So how did he venture his way to Harrisonburg? A friend and fellow restauranteur, who operates in Lexington, knew of Kristo’s desire to find an independent location and suggested the space. “Once I saw the location, I knew this was the place,” beams Kristo.
The location and character of his restaurant will be blended to incorporate Old, New, and industrial themes as well as provide guests an atmosphere where relaxation and enjoyment are the focus for everyone. “We want to make sure everyone feels welcome, whether they are students, business members, or locals,” shares Kristo.
There will be something for everyone on the menu with prices ranging from $7-$30, including a variety of entrees and salads. While I am hesitant to give away too much of the menu, he credits his mentor, Chef Jason Daniels for inspiring him to create many of the southern-themed dishes he offers. It was Chef Daniels that taught him about the cooking of the South and how to bake.
“Baking definitely gives you the most joy, because you see the results right away,” Chef Kristo comments. Daniels is currently the Executive Chef at The Inn at Willow Grove in Orange, which Kristo highly recommends for another unique dining experience - for those wanting to go a little further for a special occasion.
While the menu will be featured on the website, Chef Kristo will change the menu seasonally and offer specials that will change bi-weekly. Regular diners will come to appreciate some staples on the menu that won’t change as often, as well as some new takes on traditional fine Southern cuisine that will incorporate a Mediterranean twist, paying respect to Kristo’s Grecian heritage (he hails from Athens). His wife, Mira, is from Russia and the couple have two young children, Nicholas and Sophia.
For the atmosphere, Kristo is bringing the farm element to life. Barn doors will serve as an informal barrier to the more private dining area towards the northern side of the building. In this space, guests will be able to see directly into the kitchen where chefs will be prepping items for dishes to be served - showcasing the process from preparation to final plating. Handmade tables and leather-tufted modern booths are being crafted for the dining room. The booths will be placed near the windows facing Main Street, giving guests a wonderful view of the farmers market.
Upon entering the restaurant from the southern entrance, patrons will get a glimpse of the pub area that will incorporate a sports bar theme with some unique handiwork that will showcase the wines Rocktown Kitchen will offer. Many of these will be from local wineries, and will be a focal point for those who dine in the pub section. Kristo hopes to have at least eight local brews on draught at any given time, including offerings from Pale Fire, Blue Mountain, Starr Hill, and Bold Rock.
He has also established relationships with local farmers, and is taking every step necessary to ensure his guests will experience “presentation, quality, and consistency” with every visit.
Kristo anticipates being open till 9pm during the week and 11pm on the weekends. Lunch will be served from 11am-5pm, with the dinner menu starting at 5pm. The restaurant will accommodate reservations made by phone, and will have the potential to host private party groups up to thirty people for rehearsal dinners, business gatherings, and other private celebrations. Although he has the capacity to seat 150 people in total, Kristo will seek to balance the number of guests accepted at a time so the experience and quality remain exceptional - his first priority!
Keep an eye on the Rocktown Kitchen website for more details to come!
Written by Derek Blyer. Derek is a Public Relations major , and enjoys being active with HDR whenever possible. In his spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, family and friends, writing, great food, and being able to help others.