Moon in the 6th

Archive for the ‘Regional Favorites’ Category

Rocky’s Pasties has been on my mind for the past few days. It’s a one-of-a-kind takeout counter specializing in the unpretentious meal-in-a-pocket called a Cornish pasty, a single-serving, dough-encased pie along the lines of an empanada (only bigger) or a calzone (only smaller, and without cheese or sauce). The item is definitely low-to-invisible in the ranks of this country’s melting pot cuisines and below the mainstream radar even here in Rocky’s home base of north central New Jersey. I learned about the store from an ad-cum-coupon on a diner place mat, of all things. My first visit years ago delivered magic with staying power, from the anachronistically simple signs, to the gnomish counterman who slowly emerged, as if from another place and time, to take and fulfill my order, to the hearty, hardy and savory treats I unwrapped at home. The experience wasn’t an anomaly. Every return visit has had a gentleness, ease and open-heartedness that are refreshing to the point of bordering on otherworldly. (When I once mentioned that I was taking a large frozen order out of town, the counterman expressed genuine interest in knowing the destination.) And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that the pasties are tasty, too.

So when the weekend brought gloomy skies and an unseasonable return to cool temperatures, I took them as a call for a comfort food pick-me-up and headed to Rocky’s. It’s in the small town of Wharton, once a mining center (true of so many northern NJ towns) that now enjoys a quiet bordering on dreariness. On a residential stretch one block off the main street, Rocky’s is in the middle of an unassuming row of townhouses, of the utilitarian and archaic worker residence variety and not remotely resembling the townhouses of the last few decades. Rocky’s existence is an outgrowth of the town’s mining past. The miner population was heavy on immigrants from the British Isles for whom, word is, a pasty provided a hand-holdable meal that could be carried into the mines. This family-owned business started producing pasties for the community four generations ago.

Rocky’s also sells homemade strudels and banana walnut bread, handlabeled and, by appearances, handwrapped as well. These haven’t wowed me but have a loyal fanbase of their own; when a friend moved from the town, one particular strudel variety topped her list of things she would miss. The mainstay pasties come in three varieties: beef, sausage or chicken, each filled with neatly cut blocks of potato. My latest sausage purchase had a bit less meat than I remember, but the size is still big (about 4″ by 2″-plus), the ingredients remain fresh and the seasonings are lively. The crust is neither thick and rubbery nor thin and flat, but somehow just right. I’ll be restocking the freezer again soon.

Rocky’s Homemade Pasties, 47 Robert Street, Wharton, NJ. (973) 366-2750. No website.