Glenside Walkabout: Rocky’s Old-School Counter Culture

Glenside Local, June 2019

Let’s set the record straight. Rocky’s Delicatessen is not a deli — at least not in my book. 

After publishing a magazine about back roads travel and eating in more than 700 diners across the country, I know a diner when I see one, and Rocky’s fits that bill. It has stools, a counter, and some booths in a long, narrow space. That’s a diner

Even better, Rocky’s is unapologetically old school. When Clem Graziano and Joe and Rocky Iannuzzi picked up the spatula, Ronald Reagan was only four months into his first term and “Dallas” was the number one TV show. Rocky passed away fifteen years ago, but Joe and Clem have kept the grill hot for 38 years and changed next to nothing, save for the stools and the booths. 

The food is basic, easy, and comforting, tailored for hard working, no-nonsense people with little time to waste. Clem tells me that the cheese steaks might be the most popular thing on the menu and no wonder. Big, generously filled, and offered in several varieties, they uphold the Philly standard. I was impressed with my omelet, which too many places simply murder by over-grilling them until they’re the color and texture of bark. A Rocky’s omelet comes fluffy and moist and with a side of perfectly seasoned home fries.

The best part of the experience, however, isn’t found on the menu. Rocky’s embodies the true mom-and-pop filled with familiar faces, and where strangers don’t stay that way for too long. Joe estimates that about 80% of their customer base are regulars. “Plus, we have customers that practically grew up here. They might move away, but whenever they’re in the neighborhood, they stop in and bring their friends.” 

The day starts at 6 A.M. Joe and Clem alternate the shifts, overlapping during the lunch rush. Here, they engage in that classic short-order choreography forced by the tight space behind the counter, all for the pleasure of the lucky patron taking up a stool. This is the best seat in the house, of course. You see the process up close and at times very personal. If Joe breaks a yolk on the grill, he’ll hear about it immediately. 

The show isn’t limited to behind the counter. On most days, you’ll also find Donna, waitress extraordinaire and Joe’s blue-haired wife and mother of seven(!) children. The life of the party, Donna ensures the regulars come back and new customers feel welcomed into the family. 

Orders come in on paper slips lined up on the counter’s edge, prepared in a first-one-in, first-one out system keeping things simple and streamlined. You won’t find computerized anything on this line, but it all works like clockwork. Razor-thin margins require getting you seated, fed, and out the door in less than 45 minutes, leaving with a smile.

The efficiency does not sacrifice the personal touch. “It’s not a cookie cutter place,” Clem tells me, but it does work as local landmark that fittingly attracts people from every strata of society. 

“Madeleine Dean was in here just the other day,” Joe says proudly. Then again, politicians at every level love to mix with the locals in such places. Just ask any diner owner in New Hampshire after every election cycle. 

I have John La Rocca to thank for finally pushing me through the door. John’s a local attorney who’s been coming to Rocky’s for as long as it’s been Rocky’s. 

“My office is nearby,” he told me. “These are just super nice, hard working guys that I met 38 years ago and continue to frequent their restaurant.” 

With 19 years in the area myself, I feel I have a lot of time to make up and a cheese steak or twelve to savor. See you at the counter.