Just over the border of Providence in Pawtucket, a mighty little Cape Verdean tapas bar called Ten Rocks is bringing new demographics to the area and changing ideas about what defines the neighborhood now. Bar manager (and cousin to the owner) Raquel took a moment to talk with us about Ten Rocks’ heartfelt homages to Cape Verde, how cultural intermixture is happening over small plates, and why cornmeal is the thing you didn’t know dessert was missing.
Is there a story behind the Ten Rocks name?
It references the ten islands that make up Cape Verde. The owner, Carmen Monteiro, was born and raised in Brava, which is one of the islands. I’m of Cape Verdean background as well. “Rocks” is a nod to drinks, too, since we’re a bar.
How strong is the Cape Verdean influence on what you serve, or the
Pretty strong. Carmen was so thoughtful about wanting to bring authentic tastes and traditions into what we do, and making sure the names of dishes or drinks connect to Cape Verde. We serve things like grilled octopus, which is totally a Cape Verdean favorite, and serve drinks made with ponche, a traditional rum-based spirit that most people outside Portugal have never heard of. At the same time we’re not exclusively Cape Verdean. It’s more of a mix in some ways.
Can you say more?
Well, we have some food that you’d expect to find in a lot of American bars – like wings, or mussels – but the seasoning is very Cape Verdean. It’s not a particular spice exactly, just an intensity of flavor that you wouldn’t find in most American places that serve wings and mussels. A lot of our Cape Verdean guests come in and are curious about the more American things, including the cocktails – since they are used to things like a simple beer. And then a lot of our American guests are really excited by the traditional Cape Verdean things, like, “What is ponche?”
It sounds like your customer base is pretty diverse, then.
Definitely. When we first opened a year ago, most of our client base was Cape Verdean and Portuguese. And as the year went on, we became more and more diverse. It really is a mixture now. We’re getting people from all over Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Pawtucket has a persistent image as a very blue-collar, typically white American area. Do you feel like you fit in, or that you’re changing the area?
Well, in some ways, we are the area. So maybe we’re just changing the perception of it. In other ways, we hear a lot that Ten Rocks is really refreshing and new. I think both takes are good.
Tell me about your cocktail program.
A lot of it came from Carmen’s imagination, and home-testing family and friends before we opened. A lot of Cape Verdean homages in the ingredients and the names, which are after the islands. We keep that pretty consistent, and change in a few drinks here and there when the seasons change.
Let’s say someone walks into Ten Rocks for the first time. What would you recommend that they order?
The grilled octopus. It may seem strange to some people, but it’s so authentically Cape Verdean – and always tender, never chewy. We know how to do it right. I’m addicted to the pasteles, too, which are kind of like hand pies that come filled with tuna or goat cheese. And the fried goat cheese plate is special: we serve the fried cheese with some almonds, a guava paste, honey and bread, so you make little sandwiches and take bites of almonds and it’s perfect.
Okay, okay, I’m hungry now. What’s for dessert?
You have to try the cheesecake. In Cape Verde there’s a cornmeal flour that everybody eats for porridge in the morning, mixed with milk. We took that idea and spun it into a cheesecake, and it’s amazing.
Sold. What else should we tell people?
Music is a big thing for us. Carmen’s husband, Calu, is a drummer. He started organizing live music here on the weekends, and now it’s so popular that we have something almost every night of the week, including an open mic jazz night. It’s all a mix of Cape Verdean and American styles, just like everything else. You can find all the updates on our Facebook page.
1091 Main Street,