Rockwell and Sons brings an interesting juxtaposition to the Smith Street strip, with the food balancing between comforting American soul food and dishes that lean towards fine dining. On the first visit it’ll be hard to get past the alluring meats in buns (let’s all agree to retire “dude food”), but the rest of the menu is worth exploring, especially as it’s designed to share with the whole table.
Chef and owner Casey Wall, from North Carolina, by way of some top restaurants in New York (Spotted Pig included) and Cutler & Co, brings an experience and passion of American classics to Melbourne, and it delivers on all fronts. The room goes for the sparse industrial feel with concrete floors, plain wood and open ceilings, which fits perfectly into Collingwood and the homely food. The service is led by Manu Potoi, from Wellington and ex-Attica, and brings a casual polish to the experience. Drinks have a strong beer focus, including some great local brews like the Mountain Goat Triple Hightail, which suits the food, but does feature a short, well-selected list of wines as well (and spirits too).
The highlight for me is the Wednesday night fried chicken, which is not to discredit the rest of the menu (which I’ll cover another time), but this offers something unique to Melbourne dining. This week’s review in The Age’s Epicure details the lengthy 3-day process of delivering the perfect fried chicken, and perfection it is. This is the kind of fried chicken that you lie awake at night thinking about- crispy batter, that doesn’t ooze grease, which melts into tender, juicy meat. As well as offering a whole fried chicken, the $60 meal comes with all the Southern-style trimmings, which would feed three people easily, or four to five if you want to explore some of the other temptations on the menu as well.
Accompanying the chicken are the best biscuits (if you don’t know about biscuits, think lighter, fluffier scones and you’re almost there) you’ve ever eaten; soft and delicate inside with a flaky, buttery crust. Made with Myrtleford buttermilk (which I love, and is gracing menus Melbourne-wide) these biscuits are magnificent towers and beg to be torn into. The “mac and cheese” is rich and moreish without being overpowering, and the coleslaw is lively, with a light creaminess. On this occasion the other sides, which change week to week, were grilled asparagus with that sweet char, and pickled vegetables which brought the palate alive amongst the rich dishes.
We also had the “hush puppies” as well- crisp, yet fluffy, deep fried nuggets of cornmeal batter served with maple syrup butter. The hush puppies themselves did not blow me away, but with the maple syrup butter it had a captivating balance of salt and sugar.
After only being open a few months, Rockwell and Sons is hitting its stride, with fantastic word-of-mouth and great reviews, and it’s going to get busy- make sure you call up and book your Wednesday night fried chicken now.