STORY BY ANNA GLEASON
Des Moines is home to dozens of hidden treasures that appeal to both first-time visitors and seasoned Des Moines veterans alike. However, the capital city is often overlooked in lieu of other major Midwestern cities. (i.e. Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City) Interestingly enough, Des Moines possess all the characteristics of a major city, but on a much smaller, compacted scale.
After racking up 18 years of Des Moines exploration myself, one would generally expect a state of ennui alongside my familiarity with the city, yet I am continuously uncovering hidden treasures upon every visit.
One of my latest discoveries is the newest restaurant to occupy a 148-year-old building downtown, The Restaurant on Court Avenue.
RoCA is one of Des Moines’s newest additions to the Historic Court Avenue District. While RoCA possesses a number of individualized attributes, Brian Lindner, the FOH manager at RoCA, says their delicate manner of cocktail-making is what sets them apart from other downtown restaurants.
“We take a culinary approach to cocktails,” Lindner said. “It is entertainment for our guests to sit at the bar and watch us make their drinks.”
Their delicate procedure involves freshly-squeezed juices, syrups made in-house, smoke-infused cocktails and hand-carved ice.
The ingredients in the kitchen get the same kind of treatment as the ingredients behind the bar.
Their menu is an eclectic collection of ingredients and flavors, including shared plates, soups and salads, cheese and meat boards, sliders, dips and spreads, and flatbreads. Additionally, a number of menu options are already or can be modified to be gluten-free.
Perhaps one of the most iconic staples of RoCA is the black and white films playing in the restaurant. The now memorable component of RoCA’s atmosphere was actually an accident.
“DirecTV didn’t install in time, so we had to improvise,” Lindner said. “A previous manager had a DVD player and a copy of Casablanca, so we just ran it over and over and the guests loved it. It completely fits with the feel and atmosphere of RoCA.”
“Casablanca,” “The Three Stooges” and Charlie Chaplin films now play in RoCA regularly.
RoCA is an example of Des Moines’ big city feel in a smaller market. The establishment markets itself towards young professionals, but it also acquires a wide range of people.
“We are bringing a restaurant you would expect to see in a major city like Chicago, right to the heart of Des Moines,” Lindner said.
In the short time that RoCA has been open — less than one year — the au courant restaurant has gained much recognition all over the nation.
Iowan and last season’s Bachelor, Chris Soules, made an appearance with his ex-fiancé Whitney for dinner in Des Moines. A 15-by-30-foot mural of the then happy couple remains plastered on the side of the building.
Additionally, the popular reservation service Open Table named RoCA as one of the Top 100 hot spots in the country last March.