John Harmon built the first Van’s Aircraft RV-3 in California. In 1986, he modified a stock RV-3 by bolting on an angle-valve IO-360, different cowl and a raised turtledeck with modified canopy and the Harmon Rocket I (HR1) was born. Since then, John took the RV-4, developed the HRII and most recently the HRIII specifically to split the pylons at the Reno Air Race. He is a visionary and a dreamer.
When the Skyway Coffee Shop at Bakersfield Municipal Airport (L45) burned down in 2001, John and his minions had nowhere to eat. It took 6 years but he and his wife where able to create “a place where people could gather, eat, drink and socialize” – The Rocket Shop Café. The three-meal-a-day restaurant has a wall of windows that overlooks the runway, allowing for an uninhibited view of the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. The large rectangular space can hold a surprising 250 people and includes a banquet room to one side that can be partitioned by a large hangar-type door. Circling the entire area is a number of large screen televisions showing everything from FOX news to every ESPN cable network.
Apparently John likes racing of every kind. Near the entrance, there is a small NASCAR store that carries virtually every form of NASCAR memorabilia available. This part of Union Avenue used to be the center of town. Currently, second amendment stickers reside on the front door. NASCAR posters line the walls. On weekends, classic cars and custom bikes take over the parking lot. The Diamond Divas amateur female roller derby team has made the Rocket Shop their permanent hangout. Trust me when I say that you’re not in LA anymore.
Dinner service is passable and lunch is ok. Sandwiches and Homebuilt Burgers will quench your hunger and basically satisfy. The best of the lot are the Rocket Burger ($9.99), and the Pastrami & Swiss sandwich ($8.99). The burger is a quarter-pound Angus beef patty topped with bacon, avocado, mushrooms and pepperjack cheese. The pastrami is thinly sliced, layered on a soft, chewy hoagie-style roll and accompanied by mustard and pickles. All in all a decent combinations but the staff needs to make sure they practice First-In-First-Out bread rotation. A stale bun or roll has a tendency to make its way out to the dining room.
Instead, arrive early and have the morning meal. The breakfast menu is broken down into Ovals, Experimental Omelets, Burnout Specials, Straight Away Off the Griddle items and Senior Breakfasts. The artery clogging Chicken Fried Bacon with hash browns, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy ($8.99) is not only a deal but it’s to die for. It is a huge portion of double battered and fried smoked bacon. There’s a place for moderation but not where fried bacon is concerned.
The Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs ($9.99) will also not get the American Heart Association seal of approval but it is important enough to get it’s own day in Texas.(1) The Texas House of Representatives eloquently stated that this dish, “elevates the hearty flavor of beef to new heights by coating it in batter and breading and frying it until the ingredients are melded in a blissful union…” I’m not sure The Rocket Shop’s version is blissful but it is light, tender, thin, peppery and crisp.
The You Design It & We’ll Fly It Omelet ($8.59) is a three-egg fluffy affair that includes four items of your choice. It’s cooked gently, not the least bit rubbery, with a slightly creamy middle. Many people judge a breakfast joint by its biscuits and gravy. The café’s Skyway Special ($6.99) consists of biscuits and gravy, two eggs, two strips of bacon and sausage. The sausage gravy should taste of pork and almost be a meal on its own. The biscuits should be crisp but so light that it floats off the plate. The Rocket Shop needs a little help. The gravy lacks flavor, the biscuits were more hockey pucks than pillows of love and the overall effect was of a northern want to be not a southern must have.
The kitchen redeems itself with griddled items. Hotcakes (tall stack $5.99, short stack $4.99) and French Toast ($5.99) are house favorites for a reason. These griddlecakes are flavorful on their own right yet are still able to soak up the appropriate amount of butter and warm maple syrup. If you are around for lunch or dinner and find room for dessert, the Salted Caramel Vanilla Crunch Cake ($4.99) is the only choice. It’s a blend of salted caramel, buttery vanilla cake and creamy custard. Call it the ideal juxtaposition of sweet, salty, savor and decadent.
Portions are more than ample, huge even. The ingredients are basically fresh and generally handled with care. Be aware that the fryer does get its share of use. Proteins and vegetables have a tendency to be overcooked. Steaks can be hit or miss. Service is inconsistent, doesn’t always focus on the details and can be a bit unprofessional at times. Management tries hard however and does care enough to address customer issues. The Rocket Shop is a neighborhood joint. Both an anchor and a revitalizing force in a Bakersfield community that could use some love.
(1) Texas House Resolution 1419 recognizing October 26, 2011 as Texas Chicken Fried Steak Day.
Bakersfield Municipal Airport (L45)
Elevation: 378 ft.
Sectional chart: Los Angeles
ARTCC: Los Angeles Center
FSS: Rancho Murietta Flight Service Station
Pattern altitude: 1,178 ft. MSL
Runway: 16/34 - 4,000 x 75 ft.
CTAF / UNICOM: 122.8
WX ASOS at BFL 7 nm NW (Phone 661-393-3766)
The Rocket Shop Café
2000 South Union Avenue
Bakersfield, California 93307
Phone: (661) 832-4800
Sunday 7:00am - 3:00pm
Monday 7:00am - 8:00pm
Tuesday through Thursday 7:00am - 8:30pm
Friday 7:00am - 9:00pm
Saturday 7:00am - 10:00pm
Chef Stuart Stein is a graduate of the University of Illinois Business School and the culinary arts program at Chicago’s Kendall College. He has worked in France and the all over the US as a cook, executive chef, culinary instructor and restaurateur. Chef Stein is the writer of the book, The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Farms, Forests, and Oceans (New Society Publishers), and has written in countless culinary and aviation publications. Stuart is also a private pilot flying in southern California.