Rockwoods high on food, friendliness and atmosphere

9100 Quaday Ave. NE in Otsego at the corner of Hwys. 39 & 101 Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. - midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. - 1 a.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. To learn more about Rockwoods and their menu and special events, call 763-441-6322 or visit

You hear names like Travis Tritt and Marshall Tucker Band and immediately you think of Nashville and the Country Music Awards. Big-name, national acts known for bringing down the house — but in Otsego, Minnesota?

Well, if you were at last year’s Otsego JamFest, then chances are you not only heard the bands but saw them, too, headlining the annual music, food and fun extravaganza. And which house did they bring down? Rockwoods Grill in Otsego, of course.

Rockwoods helped establish the JamFest three years ago when new owners David and Donna Peterson took over the restaurant and breathed new life into it, adding one heck of a menu and turning its banquet facilities into a celebration destination for brides, business groups and events.

So, if you haven’t been to Rockwoods in the past three years, you’ve been put on notice: There’s a new Rockwoods in town. And it serves up mouthwatering prime rib three nights a week, steaks, pastas, wood-fired pizza with a mind-boggling 53 topping choices, a Sunday brunch and an omelet bar.

Plus, there’s no place better for hot country sounds in the summer than Rockwood’s outdoor patio, where live bands ignite BonFire Wednesdays and August welcomes a whole lineup of top-notch performers at JamFest.

Rockwoods pizzas are hand tossed and baked in a wood-fired oven. The fish tacos are one of the top-selling items on the menu. Charbroiled mahi fillets are stuffed in tortillas with cabbage, jalapeno crema and black bean and corn relish and served with Spanish corn rice pilaf. The hand-cut certified Angus steaks can be dressed with sides of fresh crab meat, asparagus and bearnaise sauce.

“Dave Peterson thinks big,” says Brad O’Leary, Rockwoods’ general manager, explaining how Rockwoods is able to bring national acts to their annual event. “But he’s also very community-oriented.”

Rockwoods has a commitment to the local school districts. It provides fireworks to the Elk River football games and supplies the burgers that make a winning game taste all that much better.

But he also has a lot of gratitude for the customers and staff who’ve made Rockwoods a success, a food favorite and a special evening out for families, after-work groups and couples.

As general manager, O’Leary is one of the staffers you’ll see at Rockwoods. He’s the guy who reads the cards and website comments left by customers.

“Food, atmosphere and friendliness are always at the top of the list,” he says.

On a recent Saturday night, he was called over to a table. He said he could feel his collar getting tight, because in his profession you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The steak didn’t taste right. A server didn’t do her job right.

“Well, the customer shook my hand. He said the food was absolutely fantastic and he just wanted to thank me,” O’Leary recalls.

That’s the kind of comment Rockwoods has worked hard to achieve each and every day and from every customer who walks through the door.

O’Leary gives the credit to the guys behind the scenes, among them head chef Luke Burger and chefs Javier Ramirez and Nicole Sutton. They’ve tweaked the menu to reflect local crowd-pleaser dishes like chicken champagne pasta and fish tacos, and they’ve trained the kitchen staff to provide a consistent, quality dining experience.

Front of house managers Beth Schumann and Jason Houtman work with a staff who’ve made an art of friendly service. And you can bet they know their wines, beers (20 on tap) and martinis, everything from a Blue Goose to a PomaTini.

Two of the faces you’ll see at Rockwoods are general manager Brad O’Leary and head chef Luke Burger, who’ve been with the restaurant since David and Donna Peterson bought it three years ago.

At the other end of the 25,000-plus-square-foot building, you’ll find Angie Minerich. The banquet center director sits in an office decorated in awards. With years of experience bringing together groups from 30 to 300 people, she has put Rockwoods on the wedding planner’s map.

It was listed by and in 2012’s Bride’s Choice Awards as one of the top reception and rehearsal dinner venues in Minnesota for expert planning, high-touch service, full service bar and built-in dance floor. With a Holiday Inn next door, Rockwoods has become an ideal host for 50th wedding anniversaries, reunions, conferences and fundraisers.

What’s ahead for Rockwoods? Well, with summer fast approaching, the outdoor patio will be gearing up. And though O’Leary won’t spill the entire lineup for the 2012 Otsego JamFest yet, he says you can expect about seven national acts, including one Dunn, as in Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn.

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