About five years ago, I ventured to Matthew Barbee's scenic Rockmill Brewery in Lancaster to taste beers one random weekend. It was a small operation that day in the farmhouse tasting room—Barbee, his mother and stepfather—and I watched as the three of them worked furiously to put out cheese and salted chocolate in preparation for a busload of people who would arrive for a beer tasting.
That day seems quaint now in the context of Rockmill Tavern, the 3,900-square-foot Brewery District restaurant that Barbee opened in November with chef Andrew Smith (formerly at The Rossi and Salt & Pine) at the helm.
Now, we can look forward to pairing Rockmill's golden Tripel with a Tavern Burger made with RL Valley Ranch beef and bacon jam. Or a puffy duck leg potpie chased with a flight of Rockmill beers and a grown-up ice cream sandwich. No offense to cheese and chocolate, but Smith is what Rockmill needed, and he's off to an exciting start.
For Barbee, the menu orbits around a burger. While living in Los Angeles for seven years, Barbee says a burger “haunted my dreams.” It was chef Sang Yoon's famous burger from Father's Office, the trailblazing LA gastropub.
“I'd think about it all the time. … It was this craft-centric bar with this burger,” he says. “When Andrew and I had these preliminary discussions, that's what I led with: ‘Let's build a burger that people are going to dream about and need to have … and we'll build this small menu that's so fun to do beer pairings with, but we'll want to keep it tight and focused.'”
To transform the former World of Beer space into the tavern, it took three barns' worth of reclaimed wood to create the right look. The result is an intimate and warm atmosphere that creates a link between the brewery's Lancaster horse-farm origins and the urban setting of Front Street.
“More than a few people made the comment, ‘I feel like I've walked out of one great room at the farm and walked into another,'” Barbee says. “That's when I was like: ‘Mission accomplished.'”
There's serendipity, too: The tavern's new home used to house the Brewery's District's old L. Hoster Brewing Company stables.
What's next for Rockmill Tavern? A menu change is in the works. The fried branzino with bright salsa verde (a personal favorite, paired with the petite saison) has been swapped out for trout. You can also expect to see burrata added to the menu, which Barbee calls “an extremely dynamic, exciting beer pairing.” On the beer side, Rockmill will be making its initial foray into sour beers, with a release anticipated sometime this fall.
Rockmill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. rockmilltavern.com