10 Rocks Tapas Bar is unexpectedly hidden amidst the old brick manufacturing buildings at the Providence-Pawtucket border. The “ten rocks” refer to the ten islands that make up Cape Verde. Rhode Island has America’s second largest population of Cape Verdean immigrants, surpassed only by Massachusetts. Still, few Rhode Island restaurants are dedicated entirely to the country’s culinary traditions.
The restaurant showcases the cuisine of Cape Verde in a fun, small plate format inspired by tapas. There’s plenty of choice on this menu. Though there are some larger plates, the selections are intended for sharing – appropriate, since sharing food is an integral part of Cape Verdean culture. Mirroring the population of Cape Verde, the country’s cuisine has a mixture of origins, namely African and European, and showcases ingredients supported by the island environment such as seafood and tropical fruits.
Owner Carmen Monteiro oversaw the ambitious building renovation, upgrading a non-descript, drop-ceilinged pub into an energetic, attractive restaurant. The welcoming side patio has cheerful red umbrellas and comfortable furniture.
We started with several small plates. The Pastel de Bacalhau ($9) were fried panko-coated cod cakes with a side of Sriracha aioli. The dipping sauce was a piquant foil to the creamy texture of the cakes. The Ma Culum Mandioca ($5), five yucca fries, were thick, freshly fried and delicious dipped in a chimichurri sauce. The Pastel de Cabo Verde ($8) were like small, square empanadas with a choice of fillings – we opted for tuna and peppers.
You may have tried patatas bravas on a Spanish tapas menu; the Maria Helena Batatas Bravas ($8) are similar but were not as crisply fried. The menu promises that they are “just like Vovó (Grandma) used to make” and they get extra richness from chorizo, a fried egg and Creole sauce.
10 Rocks’ cocktail menu incorporates many fresh fruits and juices. I had journeyed with the Flight to Cabo Verde ($12), a sampler of three Cape Verdean Ponches. Ponche is a rum liqueur made by sweetening Cape Verdean rum, also known as grogue, with sugarcane molasses. We sampled Ponche de Santo Antão (Santo Antão is the northwestern island of the archipelago), a ponche with no added ingredients. It was sweet, dark and pleasant.
Additional flavors are often added to the ponche base. We sampled two variations: the bright and fruity mango liqueur Ponche de Manga, and the thick and nutty Ponche de Calabaçeira. Calabaçeira is the local name for the fruit of the baobab tree. The dry, flaky and supposedly nutritious fruit pulp is collected from the tree’s large pods. We enjoyed this more with every taste, so it was unfortunate to hear from the bartender that this ponche is difficult to find in stores.
Moving on to some heartier fare, we tried the Morcilla Da Ilha ($10), a blood sausage served on polenta with white cheese and a drizzle of sweet balsamic. Blood sausage is not everyone’s thing, but I’m a fan and enjoyed this combination. The Pinxos ($7), or kebabs, were the most disappointing dish, but maybe it’s because I was imagining the variety made with juicier, fattier pieces of pork (instead, this was a drier lean cut). Still, the accompanying pulpy mango sauce with a touch of ginger was wonderful.
The restaurant was buzzing on the night we went, and we overheard Cape Verdean Creole at the next table. Meanwhile, we traded sips of the menu’s two sangrias. These are available by the glass ($10) or the pitcher ($24). The Sangria Roja is Pinot Noir-based with orange, pomegranate and mango. The Sangria Praia, my choice, was made with Rosé, Smirnoff blueberry, pineapple and guava and garnished with blueberries.
If this restaurant has a signature dish, it’s the Polvo 10 Rocks ($14), a generous portion of grilled octopus tentacles served over fried plantains. We wished we had saved some of our bread for the glut of olive oil, caramelized garlic and fresh herbs surrounding the octopus tower.
The Mango Mousse Cake ($8) and 3 Layer Chocolate Mousse Cake ($8) were light enough to follow such an ambitious meal. Next time I’m going to save room and try the cheesecake made with Kamoka, a Cape Verdean roasted ground corn. I’d also like to return for some of the many musicians showcased on the restaurant’s stage several times a week, and based on the night’s experience, I’m sure we will.
10 Rocks Tapas Bar
1091 Main Street