November 2015

Our family really enjoys a good restaurant experience. My husband and I like to get out kid-free sometimes, but with no relatives living nearby, free babysitting is not an option and going out without our youngsters is pricey. We also like for them to try new things and learn to be comfortable and well-mannered when eating in public. But the typical ‘family restaurants’ leave us parents wishing for a bit… more. So when we were all recently invited to try out family dining at Bocce, we leapt at the chance.

Located on bustling 4th Street SW in Calgary’s Mission district, Bocce was created by the same folks who own popular Mercato and Wurst, just down the street. Like Mercato, Bocce benefits from the home-cooked Italian food produced and/or inspired by Mama Cathy, a veteran of Calgary’s food scene and a true Southern Italian Mama. It’s like Mercato’s more casual little sister… think pizza, pasta, amazing salads, beautiful desserts and a kids menu. Bocce doesn’t just tolerate younger clientele – it welcomes them.

Bocce • Fresh Italian, Calgary AB (Family Fun Canada)

Bocce’s atmosphere is warm and casual, but upscale, thanks in part to the big display of Italian wines and the massive wood-fired pizza oven – manned here by Chef Grant.

While our kids colored their menus, watched sports on two TVs located above the bar and awaited their pepperoni pizza and penne alfredo, we were treated to an “Ophelia”, a not-too-sweet blend of gin, limoncello, homemade rosemary infusion and soda water. A great beginning to a great evening.

Bocce’s wine list is exclusively Italian, with a number of red, white and bubbly choices available by the glass, plus two house wines by the glass, half liter and carafe. The Pecorino that accompanied our salad and spicy prawn/cannelini bean/hot capicollo appetizer was a perfect match for all the exciting and bold flavours going on. And that salad was to die for! Even my husband – not always a huge salad fan – had seconds and both kids enjoyed what they tried too. At first glance, $18 seems mighty steep for a salad, but this was a family-sized concoction containing much more than mere veggies, and it held up very well for second-day leftovers too. It also would have made an excellent entree.

We could have easily been satisfied after our salad, appetizer and a few bites of the kids’ pasta and their [full-sized] pizza, but Bocce’s major claim to fame was still to come. Oh yes, I’m talking about our pizza! The Boschetto that we had is a Pizza Bianca (i.e., no tomato sauce), and it was phenomenal. Like all good pizzas, the secret is in the crust and Bocce’s occupies a nice middle ground between the ultra-thin Neapolitan style (that our kids are not really fans of) and an overly thick, doughy North American crust. Chewy and a bit crisp, this crust would probably taste good with anything on it. With garlic oil, mortadella, two kinds of dried tomatoes, several cheeses and pistachios, it was divine. Cute story: when my daughter was partway through her slice, I asked her what she thought of the crust. She looked at me a little funny and said “I haven’t got there yet!”. I guess when you’re six, the ‘crust’ is only around the edges of the pizza.

We liberally applied Mama Cathy’s famous chili oil (not too hot and with the consistency of a relish) to nearly everything we ate, including a very tasty spaghetti bolognese with its intriguing hint of cinnamon. I am going to need my better half to find his way to Mercato before Christmas, in order to supply me with some more of Mama’s Cathy’s chili oil. I can see this becoming a staple.

Bocce • Fresh Italian, Calgary AB (Family Fun Canada)

Clockwise from left: Umani Ronchi Pecorino (wine, not cheese!), Taleggio Friti salad, Spaghetti Bolognese (below) and Boschetto pizza (above).

For dessert, we got to head over to the eating bar right in front of the open kitchen to sample some sweets and enjoy watching the kitchen team at work. What a cool kitchen! Note to my husband: I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy getting dinner on the table much more if I had a huge array of pre-prepped ingredients at my fingertips, both on the counter and in refrigerated drawers below! Now, where we’re going to fit that pizza oven, I do not know…

We enjoyed two delicious desserts (both made in-house), plus fresh blueberry sorbetti from Fiasco Gelato, amaretto and cappuccino made with Phil & Sebastian beans. I hadn’t been aware that standard amaretto brands get most of their flavour from apricot pits and/or artificial essences, but after doing a taste comparison with Berta Amaretto (flavoured strictly with almonds), I may need to convert. Hmm… another item for my Christmas wish list!

Dining at Bocce • Fresh Italian, Calgary AB (Family Fun Canada)

My own ‘bella famiglia’ enjoying the kitchen action from the bar!

In addition to the delicious food and comfortable-but-upscale decor, we enjoyed the service at Bocce. From our hostess-for-the-evening/manager Kristen, to Chef Grant (who was super busy at the pizza oven), to the mixologist who delivered our cocktails (sorry I didn’t catch your name), everyone we encountered was friendly, approachable, efficient and yet clearly passionate about the food and drink Bocce creates.

Bocce • Fresh Italian, Calgary AB (Family Fun Canada)

Dessert! Left to right: Chocolate & Hazelnut Crespella, Isabella’s Lemon Pudding Cake, Berta Amaretto (grownups only, of course).

Thanks in part to the sizzling-hot pizza oven that cooks a pie from start to finish in just 4 minutes, Bocce can serve all this delicious food pretty quickly – if that’s what you want, of course! Bocce’s dishes are about a million times better than ‘fast food’, but they can be ‘fast-ish food’ if you’re on your lunch break or are stopping in for a quick dinner on your way to an event. Or even if you just have kids who don’t like to sit still for long!

Kristen mentioned that if you’re swinging by to pick up a take-out order, you can expect it to be ready in 15-20 minutes, whether it’s the dinner rush or not. We savoured our meal over a relaxed couple of hours, but my husband is scheming about when he can drive to work (instead of his usual transit trip), so that he can pick up Bocce takeout on his way home!

Kristen also let us know that Bocce has recently started serving weekend brunch (10 am – 3 pm, Saturdays, Sunday & holidays, plus the regular menu is still available). The menu looks delicious and original, but I think I might actually want to order the kids’ option… something about pizza dough baked in the oven and topped with Nutella and caramelized bananas?! Yes, please.

Other than weekends and holidays with their 10 am start time, Bocce is begins welcoming guests every day at 11 am. The kitchen closes at 10 pm on Sunday to Wednesday and at midnight, Thursday to Saturday. Reservations can be be made by phone or online.

We are planning our family return to Bocce, but if you are lucky enough to get there first… Buon Appetito!

Bocce Contact Details:

Where: Bocce • Fresh Italian
Address: 110 – 2207 4 Street SW, Calgary AB
Phone: 403 516 6162

Thank you to Bocce for hosting our family; the opinions expressed here are my own. ~ am