What happens when a passion for music collides with a desire for delicious food?
In the case of West Virginia native David Vance, it was the creation of Rock Harbor Grill, which opened late last year in downtown Fuquay-Varina.
Located a block over from Main Street across from the town’s current library (a new one is soon to be built on the other side of town), the restaurant’s seafood-centric menu and live entertainment deliver a multidimensional experience for guests.
“We offer fine dining in a comfortable, unpretentious atmosphere,” said Vance, who worked for more than 20 years in the foodservice distribution industry and now lives just a few miles from his eatery.
Mouthwatering menu selections like fresh Hawaiian opah, also known as moonfish, locally sourced rainbow trout and seared rosemary grouper will make your entrée choice difficult to narrow down. Appetizers such as flash-fried Thai shrimp, mahi jalapeño ceviche and wasabi-tinged sushi nachos only up the ante.
Executive chef Clarence Mitchell, whom Vance calls the “backbone of the restaurant,” puts his own spin on shrimp and grits by adding scallops, merlot and fire-roasted tomato sauce. Asian-flared Kung Pao calamari and basil curry rice noodles reflect Mitchell’s boundary-pushing culinary range.
“Chef also prepares beef short ribs that are to die for,” Vance said, adding that while 80 percent of the menu is seafood-oriented, landlubber and vegetarian choices also are available.
Be advised: Meals are cooked to order, so it takes a while for food to arrive at the table.
“Everything is scratch made, so it’s worth the wait,” said Vance.
Service is efficient and friendly.
“We have an experienced staff committed to taking good care of everyone who comes in,” Vance said.
Daily specials keep the doors swinging open early and often. Fish and chips and lobster rolls are discounted on Mondays. There’s a burger-and-beer pairing on hump days. Thursday couples’ night features an appetizer, two entrees and a shared dessert for $40.
Speaking of dessert, save room for a tasty slice of Key lime pie. It’s sized to share.
When it comes to libations, the bar is well stocked with local draft beer and more than 60 flavors of vodka.
“We use fresh juices and herbs, and we make our own sour mix,” Vance said. Imaginative drinks like Rock-A-Rita, Mr. Mojo Risin’ and the Wildflower give further nods to the rock music genre.
While they consume superb food and drink, restaurant guests can also enjoy mixing and mingling.
Rock Harbor’s front section provides a decidedly casual vibe, while the back of the house features a spacious formal dining room complete with white linen tablecloths. Appealing elements throughout the restaurant include exposed brick walls, Edison lights, classic rock ’n’ roll photographs and an exquisite bar crafted from imported Italian wood. Striking metal art created by sculptor and visual artist Doug Campbell depicts legendary musicians Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and B.B. King.
A private space designated as the Elvis Room seats 12. Hanging above its doorway is a shadowbox showcasing an acoustic guitar autographed by the late Elvis Presley.
“My wife bought it online and gave it to me for our 10th anniversary,” Vance said. “It’s probably the best gift I’ve ever received.”
Perhaps the next finest present he’s been given was his landlord’s financial backing to open the current iteration of Rock Harbor. The original version was situated in downtown Apex until Vance lost his lease. He managed to re-emerge in Fuquay-Varina by transforming a former bridal boutique into a local hotspot.
“Dentist Dr. Bryden McCormick got behind me in a big way during the build out,” Vance explained. “This place probably wouldn’t exist without his generous support.”
Rock Harbor presents live music four nights a week with no cover charge. Blues jam happens on Wednesday nights. Solo and duo acts play Thursdays. Full bands perform Friday and Saturday evenings.
“It’s pretty obvious that we try to incorporate music into what we do, and it’s great to have talented musicians here regularly to entertain our guests,” Vance said. “If we can get you in the door once, we think that’s all it will take.”
Rock Harbor Grill is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner with continual service from 11 a.m. A sizable open-air patio is accessible when weather permits. Reservations are accepted.
Rock Harbor Grill
132 S. Fuquay Ave., Fuquay-Varina