Dish: Bread to Make You Weep

At Pepe Bocca in Davis Square, savory Italian dishes complement the rustic loaves
View a photo gallery from Pepe Bocca. Photos: Kelvin Ma
May 14, 2015

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This is one in an occasional series about eating establishments near Tufts’ three campuses. Have a suggestion for a place for us to explore? Email now@tufts.edu.

Anyone who reserves their carb indulgences for only the most irresistible temptations should know about Pepe Bocca in Davis Square. If you’re like me, powerless in the face of magnificent breads, this place is certain to topple your resolve and bring you back to the staff of life.

The location formerly housing Sessa’s Italian market has been transformed into an open eatery punctuated by shelves of select Italian groceries and kitchen goods. Follow your nose to the far left corner and ogle what’s emerging from the ovens. You’ll find pizza, calzones and stromboli—plus a few savory eye-popping surprises.

I’m prone to deciding what to eat based on what it looks like, a habit shared with my sister (“We eat with our eyes as well as our mouth”) that we inherited from my mother (“What’s he having over there?”). You’ll get an eyeful at Pepe Bocca, where everything looks appealing in that rustic, Old World way.

Chef-owner Giovanni Maione held prior positions at Four Seasons and at La Campania, his family’s restaurant in Waltham, Massachusetts. He brings a care for ingredients and preparation that inspires renewed appreciation for familiar Italian dishes. Organic grains are used in the breads, and vegetables are lovingly showcased. To refer to the selection of Italian meats as cold cuts would feel wrong.

At least one of the many breads demands to be tried. That won’t be difficult, since they’re everywhere on display and can’t fail to catch your attention. Below the loaves’ exterior beauty is a chewy, dense interior that's not too heavy, practically meat-like.

If our party of four had had any inkling of how much I'd ordered for the table, they’d have been horrified. Luckily the food materialized in unanticipated waves—no microwaving here—so my hardy troupe was capable of surviving the cumulative onslaught. This must be what Roman orgies were like.

Basil and caramelized onions are everywhere, a fair indicator of the kitchen’s love of flavor. Roasted sweet red peppers are given a richly tangy balsamic agrodolce treatment. The porchetta is a stately boneless loin stuffed with rabe, raisins and pine nuts, perfectly cooked to avoid dryness. I’m on a self-imposed hiatus from using the word succulent, but there it is.

The arancini contain chunks of beef and just enough cheese to provide textural contrast. A good test of any kitchen’s attention to detail, the eggplant parmigiana may spoil you for others. The slow-simmered tomato sauce is fresh tasting and well balanced.

Table eating in the bustling shop delivers a swirl of synesthesia to engage all the senses. It feels satisfying to enjoy the food in such close proximity to where it is being prepared. The only downside is that you may pick up some smoky oven aroma on your clothes.

It’s easy to fall into overindulgence here. Keep in mind when ordering that you’ll succumb again when feasting your eyes on the crusty loaves behind the register on the way out. Next time, I’ll attempt to reserve enough room for an espresso and filled-to-order cannoli.

Pepe Bocca, 414 Highland Ave., Somerville. Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Telephone: 617-776-6687.

Fred Kalil can be reached at frederick.kalil@tufts.edu.

Read earlier reviews on the Dish series page.

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