Just down the winding mountain road from Cathedral Spires’ immaculate granite climbing, Buffalo Creek’s woodsy singletrack, and Staunton State Park’s dramatic trails, sits husband-and-wife owned Zoka’s Restaurant and Bar. The beguiling aroma coming off Zoka’s two smokers draw scores of dusty, sun-baked hikers and bikers to the spacious cabin’s pet-friendly deck overlooking the North Fork of the South Platte River.
Kurt and Karen Blackwell opened Zoka’s—named for their former 140-pound Newfoundland Labrador—in 2006. The Blackwells take immense pride in crafting scratch lunch and dinner dishes daily, including butchering and brining their own meats and sourcing produce and herbs from their on-site greenhouse. Such a rural, slow-food approach makes for delicious American fare.
The can’t-miss Zoka Burger ($13.50) is heavenly: A half-pound of grilled kobe beef, sticky caramelized onions, slabs of sweet-spicy bacon, and a triple-cream Cambozola cheese stacked on airy grilled ciabatta. Add a house salad with dried cranberries, toasted almonds, and goat cheese—made with fresh greens from the greenhouse—for $6, or pair the burger with crispy fried onion rings served with house-made chipotle aïoli for $10 (the generous portion serves at least two hungry hikers).
A Virginia native, Kurt’s Maryland blue crab cakes ($13) are touted on the menu as some of the best this side of the Old Line State. Indeed, the peppery grilled cakes are flaky and generously studded with lumps of crab and flecks of diced red and yellow peppers, and they’re served with a simple coleslaw and lemony remoulade sauce.
Regulars will tell you to order anything that’s smoked in-house; the Rueben sandwich ($14) is our pick. The smoker gives the corned beef a beautiful, flavorful crust. The beef is then shaved and sandwiched between dark, buttered rye bread with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and house-made thousand island dressing.
The next time you’re exploring this forested valley of peaks, seek out historic Pine, pass the church and the fire department, and swing into Zoka’s dirt lot. Bring the dogs—Zoka’s serves up a hefty, bun-less kobe beef doggie burger ($10) and there’s plenty of deck space for a post-burger nap—and wash your leisurely lunch down with a glass of peach-infused sangria as you revel in the lack of cell service.
16940 S. Pine Valley Rd., Pine, 303-838-0378