Johnny Rockets opens at Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Park

Johnny Rockets officially opens at Kennywood Park on Wednesday, June 25.  The opening marks the first time Pittsburgh’s historic amusement park will have a sit-down restaurant in more than 30 years.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

Article and photos contributed by Debra Peterson

Johnny Rockets, a chain restaurant, is themed as a retro American diner that serves entertainment as part of the meal.  The restaurant is known as much for its singing and dancing servers as for its casual food, with a menu offering such All-American classics as burgers, fries and shakes.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

On Tuesday, Kennywood Park held a preview of Johnny Rockets for members of the media and invited guests.  The casual preview provided a look at the renovated Carousel Food court and the new restaurant’s menu.  I attended the event to sample the food and service, slurp a milkshake and soak up the atmosphere.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets will likely appeal to Kennywood guests seeking classic, casual All-American fare.  The menu’s signature items are burgers, fries and thick shakes and frosty floats.  Most menu items stick to this type of cuisine: Philly cheese steaks, Rocket Melt sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken dishes, starters and desserts.  A few lighter options are available, as are kids meals.

Kennywood Johnny RocketsKennywood Johnny Rockets

The menu offers enough variety so that Kennywood guests will be able to find something to enjoy.  Johnny Rockets lists several burgers in addition to its “Original Burger,” such the Smokehouse Burger (offering toppings of onion rings, bacon and special BBQ sauce).  Diners can also build their own burger.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

The same can be said of the fries, with the menu offering guests the choice of American fries, sweet potato, cheese and chili cheese.  There’s even a combination plate featuring 1/2 -fries and 1/2 -onion rings for diners who can’t decide between the two.  Now there’s no need to do so.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets’ milkshakes will surely attract for those who scream for ice cream – and who doesn’t in the middle of the summer?  The thick shakes are made from a base of Blue Bunny ice cream and whole milk and topped with whipped cream.  They are practically a meal in themselves.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

In keeping with its cuisine, Johnny Rockets is themed as a 1950s diner.  The atmosphere is colorful in terms of both décor and service.  The restaurant’s red, black and chrome accents and a black-and-white checkered floor help make the restaurant’s bright-white backdrop pop.  The large jukebox, playing popular music from the 1950s – 1980s, hints the place will also occasionally rock.  And it does.

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Wait staff are central to the experience, offering entertainment that makes Johnny Rockets a unique dining option.  Team members periodically stop to participate in a group dance set to jukebox music.  I watched servers perform to four different songs during my visit, never repeating their dance moves.  It’s great fun to watch and tempting to join in, as some children were doing.

Kennywood Johnny RocketsKennywood Johnny Rockets

Tuesday’s event included some touches demonstrating restaurant’s fun atmosphere and energy.  Special characters appearances included Johnny himself, Kenny Kangaroo and the yellow Kennywood direction sign.  The characters danced with servers and posed for photographs.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

Servers at the Ketchup Station demonstrated how they create art – serving ketchup with a smile – with the condiment. (Heinz ketchup, from Pittsburgh, of course.)

Kennywood Johnny RocketsKennywood Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets has been developed with the park’s operations and history in mind.  Jeff Filicko, Public Relations Manager at Kennywood, says the two companies have worked closely together to ensure the restaurant is a good fit.  Kennywood is the restaurant’s franchisee and wait staff come from the park’s food operations, team members who have been trained to deliver the Johnny Rockets experience.

The careful blending of Kennywood and Johnny Rockets can be seen in the restaurant’s space.  Johnny Rockets is located in the former Carousel Food Court, an 1898 building which has served a number of purposes since housing the park’s first merry-go-round.  The decision to renovate Carousel Food Court, a more expensive option than building anew, is grounded in Kennywood’s commitment to remembering its long history.

As part of the renovation, Kennywood installed windows and added air conditioning.  Filicko notes those changes reflect the park’s ongoing assessment of the park’s and guests’ needs; enclosing the building permanently marks a natural progression from the temporary siding put up during the park’s popular Holiday Lights event.  [Click here for our coverage of Kennywood’s Holiday Lights.]  The renovations help make it a comfortable place to enjoy a meal.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

But care has also been taken to preserve the building’s place in Kennywood’s history.  The building retains its high ceiling, which keeps the space feeling airy and maintains a visual connection to the building’s beginnings.  The walls are filled with images of and references to the park’s history that fit in well with the restaurant’s nostalgic décor.  The building’s exterior clearly identifies the restaurant, but its shape remains identifiable as Kennywood’s original carousel building.

Kennywood Johnny Rockets

Based on the preview, Johnny Rockets works well with Kennywood’s classic and family-friendly vibe and will be a welcome addition to the Pittsburgh amusement park.  The restaurant offers a comfortable, entertaining and retro-classic dining venue; serves tasty food that complements other offerings in the amusement park; and provides good portions for the price and location.  It offers a Johnny Rockets experience that is clearly part of Kennywood Park – and that’s how it should be.

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