RoCA opened in the Court Avenue District back in October, 2014 in the space vacated by Sbrocco. RoCA means “Restaurant on Court Avenue.” In Spanish it can mean “rock” which I think it does quite well — on both the food and cocktail levels. Executive chef Aaron Holt worked under Andrew Meek also of Sbrocco, so there is a tie to the old restaurant. That is good because I loved Sbrocco’s small dishes. This is not the old Sbrocco, however. There is no quiet lounging at the darkened bar to sip a Grenache blanc. RoCA has an electric, busy vibe that I don’t encounter always in higher-end Des Moines restaurants. Perhaps Eatery A, Malo, and Louie’s Wine Dive come close.
In addition to a fairly complete revamping of the inside, the drink focus is now on cocktails instead of wine. Although RoCA is coming to the cocktail craze a bit late, RoCA shows that there is still a lot of room for innovation.
Both times I’ve visited the place was packed. The crowds were quite diverse, with both the 20-30 year old cool crowd and the “more experienced” gentlemen and ladies sharing the bar and tables. It is interesting to me that RoCA has about five times the business as the equally new Tonic Bar next door.
The ambiance is one of loud commotion. Old black and white movies are shown on the TVs (sound must have been off), not sports games. This is not a sports bar thank God. There are a lot of hard surfaces and the whole place was pretty noisy, with waiters having to elbow their way through. Although loud, I like the feel. It is not a “white table cloth” experience, but then most places emphasizing cocktails and booze are not likely to be that.
The bar is busy. At least three bartenders are furiously working on drinks. The level of activity reminds me somewhat of the Latin King, with its busy barroom off to the side of the waiting area. The drinks, however, are quite innovative. The base spirits are Diageo brands such as Bulleit Bourbon, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Ketel One, and Bushmills. At the recommendation of someone who had a hand in creating the Smoking Gun, I tried this excellent drink. This is made from Bulleit Bourbon, maple syrup, angostura bitters, and hickory smoke — essentially their craft cocktail take on the Old Fashioned. For $10 you get the glass with the hand-cracked clear ice and a Bulleit bottle with bourbon and hickory smoke locked in under the cap. Give it a shake and pour. The drama of a bottle full of smoke was worth the experience and the infusion of hickory smoke makes for an interesting change from the usual Old Fashioned. I’ve got to try this at home. Next time I visit I will be sure to try another signature drink — the Fig Manhattan. That drink comes in at $14, which reflects the hand-made special ingredients that go into that drink. Look at the picture below. How cool is that?
My partner tried the Adelaide, which she described as quite flavorful. It features Tanqueray Gin, an elderflower liqueur, simple syrup, lime juice, tonic water, cucumber, mint, and rose water.
For food, I ordered the special pasta which, in keeping with my smoking gun cocktail, also featured smoked bacon. My partner ordered the capon meatball slider, which was much, much better than most sliders I’ve had — it is easy to overcook sliders. The surprising hit of the evening was the Wild Rice salad. This was a combination of wild rice, balsamic vinaigrette, roasted squash, goat cheese, arugula and pecans. If you have a cheese-eating vegetarian in your group this is well worth trying. It is worth getting even if you don’t.
RoCA brings a level of class to the Court Avenue District that is sorely lacking. It ranks right up there with Eatery A for the casual take on shared plates and especially tasty meals, though I have to admit that RoCA beats Eatery A hands-down on cocktails.
208 Court Ave
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
Phone Number: 515-282-3663