Jason Lizardo & team open new location on Niagara Falls Boulevard
By Joshua Maloni
When Jason Lizardo first opened Rock Burger inside Players Sports Bar on Niagara Street, word of mouth spread faster than you can say “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”
The Niagara Falls chef one-upped the more-pedestrian Golden Arches – and just about every other patty griddler in town – by stuffing his half-pound burgers with items such as Doritos, Tater Tots, Buffalo chicken fingers, mac-n-cheese and even ravioli.
As word of mouth spread, and mouth-watering pictures covered social media sites, Rock Burger quickly became a cult smash. This was the place where one could get a giant burger, juicy and oozing from the inside out, dripping with head-scratching foodstuffs straight from Lizardo’s imagination.
In 2016, “I was going to do a food cart, but I ended up doing something (at Players),” he said. “I thought about the idea, because I always would make crazy burgers at home. So, the stuffed-burger concept came to life. I would always like to have crazy condiments and cheeses on my burgers at home. So, I put a bunch of crazy stuff in burgers, and it worked.”
“It was like an overnight success, as far as our business goes,” Lizardo added. “I’m just glad that we can provide good fun to good people, and for good quality.”
About six months into the Rock Burger business, Lizardo realized he needed more space. He looked into different locations for a second site, but couldn’t find the right fit.
When a pizzeria across the street from Popeye’s closed in 2018, Lizardo found his “perfect spot.” He went to work reconfiguring the space and adding his own branded swag.
On Monday, the second Rock Burger opened. The restaurant is located at 8529 Niagara Falls Blvd., right next door to Family Video. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, and the eatery was off and running. A full house greeted Lizardo and his team.
“It’s really nice to see that I have the support of the city and family and friends and loyal customers. I just hope that I can get a lot more loyal customers in the future,” he said.
The welcome party was coordinated by Seth Piccirillo, director of Niagara Falls Community Development.
“To see a local, homebred Niagara Falls small business owner expanding to different neighborhoods is really important and encouraging,” Piccirillo said. “Basically, he grew out of his one space – he grew out of Players – kind of as a business incubator. And now bringing it to a very-high-traffic area, so that really he’s at both sides of the city, is encouraging – and something to build from. I know he wants to do more locations. And to have his home be Niagara Falls is special.”
Piccirillo noted, “Unique and good food draws people. He has a really kind of artful menu that separates himself from chains, and gets people talking, and it creates an experience. That's why he's successful, and that's why locals and tourists are going to rally around this place.”
Lizardo is a player-coach, both manning the grill and teaching his staff how to make every burger, side and shake to his satisfaction.
One of the first customers at Rock Burger II was Pat Proctor, vice president of marketing at Rainbow Air.
“I’m excited to see them expand. Great location. And the food’s always good, so there won’t be any complaints about that,” he said.
Proctor’s burger of choice is "The Dorito Explosion.” The half-pound patty is filled with Cool Ranch chips and sharp American cheese, smothered with more sharp American cheese, and drizzled with ranch seasoning, Bison dip and Frank’s RedHot.
Oh, “and the fries are just out of this world,” too, Proctor said.
“There's a secret behind the success, and I'm sure we're not going to get it out of him, but I think just the fact that there’s consistency all the time,” is key, Proctor noted. “It’s never dry; it’s never rock-hard. You know what you’re getting when you come in.”
“Rock Concoctions” include “The WNYorker,” which is stuffed with a “Pizza Rock Roll,” topped with red sauce and mozzarella, and inserted into a bun coated with blue cheese or ranch; “The Buffalo Wing Dipper” is crammed with original Doritos and provolone, and covered with Buffalo chicken wing dip, more provolone, bacon and hot sauce; while “The Fuhgetaboutit” is layered with a chicken cutlet, parmesan cheese and mozzarella, and blanketed with red sauce and extra mozzarella.
Rock Burger also offers sweet and savory concoctions filled with – get this – peanut butter, strawberry, cheesecake or cookies.
Popular ½-pound stuffed burgers include “The Niagara,” which is bursting with cheddar; “The Tight Rope Walker,” which is a bacon-lover’s dream – and comes with an egg; and “The Goat Island,” which pairs a patty with goat and cheddar cheeses, guacamole, fried onions and barbecue sauce.
“The Niagara” stuffed burger is $9.95. The other filled burgers cost $10.95. “Concoctions” are an extra buck. Of course, for $1.29 more, anything can be topped with bacon.
Chips are the house side. They can be swapped out for “Rock Fries” (add $2.75), “Rock Rings” or a side salad (add $3.75).
Lizardo said, “Every week I put out a new burger. Every single week we put out a new burger, and it’s going to be stuffed and topped with different things.”
Patrons will find an assortment of other items on the menu, including “Rock Mini” ¼-pound burgers; pizza, wing dip, spinach and artichoke or cookie “Rock Rolls,” served with dip; “Rock Dog,” with a choice of Nathan’s beef or Sahlen’s pork hot dog; “Rock Salads”; and milk shakes – your basic vanilla and chocolate, plus Nutella, Reese’s and Oreo-flavored.
Other guests at the ribbon-cutting ceremony included Lizardo’s mother, Maria Gara; Niagara Falls City Councilman Chris Voccio; and Niagara Falls School Board President Robert Restaino.
Rock Burger II is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony.