Santa Fe Grille & Bar

A historic building, pleasant and well-trained staff, and a menu that starts with Tex-Mex and takes off from there are what you’ll find at the Rocky Hill Inn.

By: Faith Bahadurian

Santa Fe Grille & Bar

137 Washington St.

Rocky Hill

(609) 683-8930
Food: Good

Service: Excellent

Prices: Inexpensive to moderate

Cuisine: Tex-Mex and far beyond

Ambiance: Casual and homey

Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; Dinner:
Mon.-Sat. 5-10 p.m., Sun. 5-9 p.m.; Bar: Mon.-Fri. 11:30
a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 5-12:30 p.m., Sun. 5-10 p.m.

Essentials: Major credit cards accepted; full bar; smoking at bar only; wheelchair accessible; reservations accepted for parties of six or more.


   The pleasant wood building on Rocky Hill’s main street that is home to the Santa Fe Grille & Bar dates from the late 1700s. It was an inn originally, when the area was a popular vacation spot for city-dwellers. Eventually the tourist trade fell off, and the inn became a bar and restaurant.
   After launching her career as a restaurateur when barely out of her teens, owner Jenna Kleinman went from a Southwestern take-out spot on Nassau Street (I still miss that place), to a full-fledged restaurant and bar in this historically designated building in an enviable location.
   A wrap-around porch promises ease within and provides al fresco dining during warm weather. I have not been disappointed on my visits, although I wish that the front room across the hall from the bar offered a more open view onto picturesque Washington Street (and that the smoke was better vented). But the room is cozy, with lots of framed mirrors (for sale), Southwestern touches and a glowing fireplace. There is a second room on that side of the Inn, and two more dining rooms on the bar side.
   The staff is extremely pleasant and well-trained, and during my recent visit we were ably served by Diane and Eric, the latter in training under the watchful eyes of the former. I have also noticed solicitous care given to tables with children, and to seniors.
   Since it was a spring-like evening, I celebrated with a Beefeater gin and tonic. At $4.25, it was generously sized, and coolly refreshing, just perfect. The wine list is surprisingly good, too. Glasses range from $4.75 to $7. Bottle prices are gentle, with many choices in the $20 to $30 range, on up to $72 for the delicious Estancia Red Meritage (also available as a half-bottle for $38). Patrons can even share a split of Freixenet Brut sparkling wine for a mere $5. This wine "program," as it’s called in the trade, puts restaurants with higher aspirations to shame.
   The menu is extensive, from typical bar food to more ambitious dishes on the seasonal menu. Most items are made in-house, including many appetizers, which often isn’t the case in casual restaurants. At times, game has been heavily featured, but on a recent visit was limited to venison sausage, and the buffalo burger is always on the bar menu.
   I’ve tried that buffalo burger and found it good, as was the seafood with linguini requested by my father one evening and graciously accommodated although it was not on the menu. That night, I bravely tried and enjoyed an order of jalapeño bites ($5.99) stuffed with cheddar, and found them milder than expected. The regular menu entrées top out at $22.99 for strip steak, and the seasonal menu tops out at $25.99 for filet mignon.
   We tried two appetizers the night of my recent visit. Spanakopitas ($6.99), filo dough filled with spinach, feta cheese and Mediterranean seasonings, were delicious, although I found the spicy ranch dipping sauce that accompanied the delicate triangles a strange match. Cajun shrimp ($7.99) were truly exceptional. Four large juicy shrimp were seasoned, wrapped in paper-thin spring-roll wrappers, and perfectly fried. They came with a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce that I didn’t care for (too candylike), but these shrimp easily stood on their own. Another one or two shrimp for that price would have been nice, however.
   Entrées were also good. My companion enjoyed tender pork tenderloin ($21.99) wrapped in sage leaves and bacon, then roasted and sliced. It was good, and the bacon was nice and crispy. It came with a large mound of skin-on garlic mashed potatoes, and freshly cooked broccoli florets and huge slices of carrot.
   My own more casual BBQ pork quesadilla was just what it should be. Tangy shredded pork was enveloped in a crispy chipotle-flavored flour tortilla with jack cheese. Sour cream, excellent house-made guacamole and spicy salsa came on the side, along with Mexican rice. I could barely finish half of it, and enjoyed the rest the next day, although the rice was, regrettably, not included in my takeaway container.
   Ever the entrepreneur, Ms. Kleinman has also created her own line of salsas, spices and even private-label wine, and makes gorgeously stuffed gift baskets with a local connection for lovers of Southwest cuisine, which are displayed in the hallway.
   We passed up the seasonal menu’s white chocolate macadamia cheesecake ($5.99) in favor of key-lime meltdown ($5.99), which we enjoyed with abandon. Key-lime ice cream was layered with vanilla mousse and topped with key-lime sauce with a graham-cracker crust on top. It was light and refreshing, and on this almost-spring evening, a breath of fresh air.
For directions to Santa Fe Grille & Bar, click here.