Bistro Roca Review
Bistro Roca has always been one of my favorite restaurants and bars in the high country. The establishment is extremely well-managed and has a long legacy of serving guests at its present location. In fact, the bar – now – Antler’s Bar was opened in 1933 and is the oldest continuously operating bar in North Carolina. Word has it – that it originated as a speakeasy in the roaring 20s. The restaurant, Bistro Roca, (previously Dockside Ira’s) opened in 2005 and has been a Blowing Rock favorite ever since. A great deal of the credit goes to the vision of Cob Milner, the current owner. Cob had the foresight to hire an excellent staff and you’ll see this when you arrive and enjoy your dinner and drinks. Michael Foreman is Cob’s Executive Chef who designs and delivers the great cuisine. Michael has a well-established and deserved reputation in the high country for commitment to quality and creativity. Seth Parker, his Executive Sous-Chef implements a lot of Michael’s vision. Jennifer Love, the manager makes sure your service does not disappoint.
Their philosophy according to Jennifer is to fulfill the role of a small, neighborhood bar/restaurant where you always feel welcome. To me it has the flavor of a somewhat hidden gem favored by locals because of its slightly-off-the-beaten-path location. But they want people to feel comfortable and if you return – to be recognized as “a regular.” Casual is the word here and it’s hard to imagine feeling any other way in this restaurant. She runs the place as she says to feel “proper but not stuffy.” As to atmosphere they want the ambiance to feel “cozy, warm and casual with an eclectic feel.”
We spoke at length with Jennifer and she described their cuisine as Modern American with a French inflection and southern flair. Whatever they serve they take pride in sourcing as much of it as possible locally. Some of their better-known staples are their rib-eye steak which Jennifer describes as top-notch. They also have oven-prepared pizza and culinary eggplant dishes – just to name a few.
Seth tells us that a key to their success is keeping to simple food properly prepared. He emphasizes that in all they do – flavor is the key. He loves “micro-grown herbs and goes to great efforts in his presentation. He reiterates that they embrace French influences in their cuisine and that one of their guiding philosophies is “simple food prepared as well as possible.” They love to use local whenever possible and focus on quality.
And they don’t skimp on dessert – you’ll want to save room for their flourless chocolate torte or renowned bread pudding. Desserts are always home-made. The wonderful bread pudding may vary in style with the season so you can expect a treat when you come. So you’ll find that change is built into the menu as the pages of the calendar turn.
When you come in – if you’re a little early – do yourself a favor and visit Antler’s Bar. It’s quite a treat and compellingly inviting. They’re proud of the bottled beer selection and wine list as well. This bar can be a destination without resort to dinner – it’s that acclaimed. And that’s saying something because to resist the temptation of eating here once you walk in will take more will-power than you may think.
One of the great and overlooked features of this restaurant is that it is pet-friendly. You’ll note all the dog drawing and art when you enter Antler’s Bar. The men’s room is a completely decorated in that motif and it’s hilarious. But they’ve gone beyond lip service. Bring your pet with you and you can dine together on the back porch. Now how many upscale restaurants will accommodate you like this! And each year they improve the porch so that now you can sit outdoors enjoying your favorite dish while basking in the sunshine.
When asked to explain the phenomenal success, Jennifer answers that they owe it all to their loyal clientele and dedicated staff. She says she and the staff go out of their way to make customers comfortable and they just keep returning. Go give Bistro Roca and Antler’s Bar a try – you won’t be disappointed.