On the day that I decided to try this new-ish café and barbecue joint, I had been running errands around town and was hot, tired and hungry by the time I got all the way out to this rustic outpost on the Turquoise Trail. It’s most of the way to Cerrillos, just past Bonanza Creek (3810 Hwy. 14, 471-3085). It’s far enough out there—about 20 miles from the SFR office downtown, past the county jail and Old Main—that your brain is able to chill out a little.
Things are much slower and much mellower out at Ravens Rock, housed in a funky old building that has been home to several other things (including Babaluu's Cocina Cubana) and is currently shared with Antigua Coffee Co. There is a huge flagstone patio that is half-shaded and rimmed by a banco with a kiva fireplace.
Inside, the atmosphere is that of a rambling ranch house: rough-sawn beams, floors of brick and wide wood planks, a huge stone fireplace in one room. Bluegrass is the jangling soundtrack. On the day we visited, there were only a few other patrons: a guy in scrubs waiting for a take-out order, an older woman camped out reading a book, a cowboy making nice with everyone.
The menu matches the ranch house vibe. The specialty here is barbecue done with an uncharacteristically light touch.
The best way to try a little of almost everything is to order a Ravens Rock combo platter ($16.95), which comes with two meats (pulled pork, brisket, sirloin, chicken) and add on a side of two ribs ($4.95). The pork and brisket are the obvious first choices for the combo and they are both well executed. The pork is left in small chunks, not pulled to shreds, and it has a nice red smoke ring around the edges. It's moist but not soaking in a pool of fat.
The brisket is pleasantly juicy and also subtly smoked. This is a tough thing to pull off since brisket takes a long time to cook and it's easy to dry it out. Ravens Rock succeeds here.
We received a selection of three barbecue sauces. Regrettably I wasn't paying enough attention to ask what they were but they were each far, far too sweet for our tastes. You think KC Masterpiece is too sweet? These were basically jam with a splash of vinegar. Luckily good meat doesn't need sauce.
The combo platter comes with two sides but you can add more for $2.50 each. They are good, although they all generally suffer from an excess sweetness. The potato salad has an unusual but lovely lemon dressing. The coleslaw, made simply with white and red cabbage, has a pleasant tang. The ranch beans reflect the smokiness of pieces of pork belly even if the actual pork is hard to locate.
The most notable side is a hot cheddar pineapple casserole. I don't even know how to properly describe this. It looks like a lumpy lemon bar but has no crust; it tastes like pineapple upside down cake but obviously contains shredded cheese. It is tooth-achingly sweet but also a little salty. As a side to ribs it's a little odd, but as an offbeat dessert I sort of like it.
The rest of the menu includes a tempting Philly cheesesteak ($11.95) made with smoked sirloin (and Russian dressing?!) and a short list of burgers and other sandwiches, many made with the smoked meats. There is breakfast, too, with huevos ($7.95), breakfast burritos ($7.95) and blue corn pancakes ($6.95).
A dinner-sized salad showered with shards of applewood-smoked trout ($12.95) had none of the parched, acrid quality that can ruin delicate fish. The meat was sweet, plump and well-matched with a big pile of greens and a Vidalia onion vinaigrette. The candied pecans and local goat cream cheese were probably unnecessary distractions but the sliced apple was a smart inclusion for its crunch and sweet contrast to the fish.
Apparently the guy in scrubs had been sent to pick up lunch for an entire hospital full of people because the kitchen seemed overwhelmed by his order. After he left, arms full, things sped up a little.
Our server was very friendly and welcoming but she had the air of someone who was just filling in. Maybe she was. Waiting tables is almost certainly not her profession. We sat for an incredibly long time, more than half an hour, with nothing but drinks on the table and no update on the food. I was fantasizing about a hunk of bread or a basket of chips.
The kitchen must speed up or increase its capacity and the service could use an upgrade, but Ravens Rock offers good smoked meats in a charming setting. For folks who commute down Highway 14 or those who just need a little jaunt out of town, this watering hole is a fine spot to tie up your horse for a bit.
At a Glance:
Open: 10 am–8 pm daily
Best Bet: Ravens Rock combo platter
Don't Miss: Coffee on the patio