When the mining company moved out of Bisbee and turned the town into a lemon, residents used that lemon to create some world class lemonade. One ingredient is a plethora of great restaurants such as Café Roka.
Chef Rod Kass has owned Café Roka for the entirety of its 24 year existence, and his attention to detail and quality is apparent. The place practically reeks of casual elegance with its dark wood wainscot, pressed tin ceiling and red napkins and tablecloths. Add to that attentive staff and a chef who doesn’t disappoint and you have the makings of a meal to remember.
Longtime Bisbee resident Freena Gray-Davidson, a writer, journalist and expert on how to care for dementia patients, very quickly names Café Roka as one of her very favorite restaurants. High praise from a world traveler.
“It’s the best restaurant in Bisbee,” Gray-Davidson said with a lilting English accent. “Plenty of Bisbee people come; it’s not just a visitor restaurant. It’s really your own downhome restaurant in a very high class kind of way, but comfortable.”
Although the food keeps her coming back, Gray-Davidson also loves how welcoming the place is. That must be true judging by the number of people who greeted Gray-Davidson by name as she entered. There’s even comfort in eating there alone.
“It’s really friendly,” she said. “If you don’t know anyone a great thing to do is to go up to the bar, sit there and have your meal up there. If you don’t want to be silent there’s plenty of conversation there. This is not a snobby place.” Longtime employee Fred Miller, who has run the bar at Café Roka for over twenty years, is happy to make recommendations, tell great stories about Bisbee and make a mean drink.
Eating at Roka is like touring a really wonderful country and as with any good destination, much enjoyment may be derived from the journey. At Roka the culinary odyssey begins with a small serving of tomato soup with rosemary and a bit of cheese, just to whet the appetite. Next: a salad of fresh greens topped with a lemon-Dijon vinaigrette followed by a small palate cleanser: an itty bitty scoop of lemon sorbet.
As her main event, Gray-Davidson had the grilled quail stuffed with prosciutto over wild rice. Delicious. Another person at the table ordered short ribs with a wine reduction on mashed potatoes. Yes, it was great.
Just when Gray-Davidson thought the meal was done, dessert arrived. And what a dessert. On the plate to be shared by those at the table sat one slice each of flourless chocolate cake, Nutella cheesecake and tiramisu.
Great beginnings, great ends and a lovely journey in between.
“It’s really good food; it’s not snobby food, though,” Gray-Davidson said. “And you could have as good a time here as if you already knew Bisbee and lived here or if you were just visiting. Everyone gets welcomed in the same kind of way.”
That is why Gray-Davidson loves where she eats.
Café Roka is only open from Thursday through Saturday and reservations are a very good idea because the place is so popular.
Next week: Bisbee Breakfast Club and the street time forgot.
Café Roka is located at 35 Main Street, Bisbee, AZ, USA and can be reached by phone at (520) 432-5153.