Papa Roc’s Italian Restaurant

IMG_4672It’s easy to roll your eyes when someone talks about “branding” their small business, but our initial reaction to Papa Roc’s can offer a valuable lesson to anyone with some basic training in public relations and design — and can offer a different lesson to folks who might make the mistake of judging a book by its cover.

We had heard some buzz that Papa Roc’s sold tasty Italian food, so we did a quick web search to look at the menu and discover the location. We were not impressed by what we saw. We were initially turned off by the superficial elements of Papa Roc’s menu: the cartoonish stereotypical logo image of the mafia gangster brandishing a handgun, the brunch menu item named after Benito Mussolini, repeated use of the phrase “ba da bing.”

But a restaurant’s use of a dictatorial war criminal as an effort at cuteness has nothing to do with the quality of the food, nor do spelling and grammar errors on a website or menu. The important factors — the food, the price, the service, the atmosphere — all receive high marks at Papa Roc’s, and our recent meal left us extremely pleasantly surprised and pledging to return. Besides, trafficking in ethnic stereotypes about organized crime is evidently de rigeuur for Alabama’s Italian restaurants — our favorite place over in Opelika is called Ma Fia’s.

Papa Roc’s is at 7780 Atlanta Highway in the Somerset Shopping Center, in the location formerly occupied by Garrett’s. It’s not in Midtown, like the timeless tradition of Corsino’s, but Papa Roc’s is a welcome addition to the Italian food scene, even if you have to drive out east a bit. It has only been there since February, but our mid-July meal was an excellent birthday dinner. They close early on Sunday (7 p.m.) so be aware of that, but we were quickly seated and offered drinks and bread by our attentive server. Be sure to check out the list of spritzers available, which make an excellent summertime beverage for the kids and non-drinkers in your party. We had the watermelon spritzer, and it was sort of like a Jolly Rancher dissolved in some club soda.

As starters, we had a Caesar salad, which was pronounced to be delicious (“some of the best Caesar dressing I’ve had”) and a bit of an unusual selection for us — the fried mozzarella balls. Usually, we’d pass on this kind of menu item, assuming that fried cheese is going to be both horrifyingly unhealthy, and also extremely greasy. On whim, we ordered the tiny orbs, and we were astonished by how much we liked them. The breading is absolutely perfect, and doesn’t overwhelm the genuinely good cheese, which seemed to us to be non-frozen and perfect when dipped in the accompanying marinara sauce. Highly recommended.

For entrees, we had the eggplant parm and the bocalotti — which is a rigatoni pasta with a creamy vodka sauce. The slice of eggplant used in the parmesan was like a steak, one of the largest eggplants we had ever seen served in a restaurant. It also had the snap of a steak — crispy without being overdone. Like with the menu, any skepticism based on appearances was dissolved as soon as the eating commenced. It was hearty and filling, and the tomato sauce was light and spicy.

IMG_4673The bocalotti was also tremendous, and we had enough left over to take home in a to-go box. Because one of us was having a birthday, the waiter was kind enough to present us with a slice of a heavenly limoncello cake, which was fluffy and sweet and laced with just the perfect hint of citrus. We resolved that when we return for another meal, we definitely plan on leaving room for dessert.

Again, Papa Roc’s may not look like much, a non-descript place in a strip mall way out on the east side. But don’t be deterred by appearances. The British made the mistake of letting their feelings about Italy drive them to Brexit, and the current situation with the Italian banks certainly is a bit unnerving. Don’t let those troubles burden you. Check out Papa Roc’s and get yourself something that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.

 

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