It’s called “Rocket to Venus” and in Hampden, right? We half expected to see a big rocket mounted outside – but there isn’t… It looks like two row houses merged together which have been a local corner bar forever. We expect the inside to be like a set from “Dr. Who” or “Lost in Space” but it’s eclectic with a large u-shaped bar in the middle, booths and tables around the walls, a dark insy and outsy coffered ceiling, columns covered in shiny aluminum and lozenge-shaped windows filled with glass block. (From the menu, we learn that it’s named in honor of 3 young Hampden guys who tried to build a rocket ship to take one of them to Venus in 1928).
It’s crowded on a week night and we’re glad we have reservations. Tables are close together but inspire a bit of cross-tables asides and exchanges. We order drinks while we wait and Wasabi peas on the bar (no peanuts or pretzels!) hint that the food will be eclectic too! Our table is ready on time – our waitress brings a plate of French bread with olive oil and a extra carafe of ice water for the table (a nice touch!). We start by ordering three appetizers to share: Fried Pickles ($3), Brussels Sprouts ($4), and Pierogies ($5). The pickles are 3 long kosher spears, battered and deep fried with the spiced-up ranch dressing and the combo is interesting.
The Brussels Sprouts are roasted in Balsamic vinegar and olive oil and a dozen or more are heaped in a bowl; They’re good (and John wonders why he avoided Brussels sprouts for most of his life!). The Pierogies are five small dumplings filled with potato, cheese and kimchi (Korean spicy cabbage). The pierogies win a unanimous vote as best of the three appetizers! (but then there’s not one crumb left of the other two!)
The menu is limited but there’s a printed-out list of the evening’s “specials”. Sandwiches ($6-11) come with salad, spicy fries or potato salad; other items range from $9-24. For the main course, our guests opt for the Tenderloin Skewer ($14) and Grilled Steak ($24). Marty decides on the Thai Mussels ($10) and John goes for a New Orleans inspired “Po’ Boy” sandwich with fried oysters and prosciutto ($10). The “skewer” (aka kabob) has tender beef and is cooked as ordered. It comes with a deep fried, battered, big ball of white rice with a zigzag of sauce – the crunchy coating outside and white rice inside is interesting but ultimately this is just a big ball of white rice. (Why not brown rice? Why not sauce or gravy?) The steak is, well, a steak – but tender and cooked as ordered and includes mashed potatoes and a large Caesar salad. Marty’s mussels arrive piled high in a big bowl and the Thai sauce is spicy (but not too hot) and gets spooned up and then wiped clean with French bread. John’s Po Boy is served on ciambatta bread which barely contains all the contents and is yummy. His included house salad is a delight with pumpkin seeds, craisins and dark greens. No “doggy bags” for anyone tonight!
The “Sloppy Tofu” has also proved to be another winner and convinced at least John that eating vegetarian could be interesting and involve more than a salad or plate of steamed veggies! Both Marty and John recommend the “Veggie Wimpy Burgers” ($10) – four small homemade veggie burgers topped with fried onions and Swiss cheese.
But beware the Szechuan Noodles ($9) which, even though we like hot food, bordered on being too hot to be enjoyable.
Our guests wanted to try the apple and lemon pies from the local “Dangerously Delicious Pies” bakery ($5) and opted for “ala mode” ($1.50). For a wild minute, John & Marty think about sharing the “PB&J Delight” – a peanut butter & jelly sandwich dipped in pancake batter, deep fried and served with vanilla ice cream and drenched in caramel ($7) but decide against giving our doctors a heart attack and pass! We jump on the offer to sample our guest’s pies – the lemon is good but the apple pie has been heated up enough to start melting the vanilla ice cream and leaves us wanting more!
This “Rocket To Venus” is an interesting place with equally interesting menu choices!
FACTS? Rocket to Venus – Hampden- 3360 Chestnut Ave (corner of 34th), 410-235-7887, www.rockettovenus.com, (Open 5pm-11pm for dinner, bar open to 2am , brunch on Sunday 12 noon – 7 pm) if you don’t like waiting, make reservations! Parking in Hampden sometimes can be difficult – allow time!
SUGGESTION? After eating, consider a walk around the block or down the “Avenue” (36th between Chestnut and Falls) and enjoy Hampden! Also – at Christmas Time – Rocket is a stone’s throw away from the glorious “Miracle on 34th Street” Christmas light display and extravaganza!