At Bocca Bella, homemade-style Italian
Small, cheerful-looking, and within walking distance of my home, the new restaurant at a long-vacant spot in Auburndale had me at hello — or, more precisely, at “Opening Soon,’’ the banner it sported all summer and most of the fall. But that banner hung unchanged for so long that it became a family joke. “Opening Soon Restaurant? What cuisine is that?’’
Happily, the suspense finally ended in November. Turns out the place isn’t called Opening Soon after all — it’s Bocca Bella Cafe & Bistro, the cuisine is homemade-style Italian and American, and it’s better and cheaper than it needs to be.
Mario Boccabella, who co-owns the place with his son-in-law, Anthony Vega, emigrated in his youth from Italy’s Abruzzi region. He’s owned and run several restaurants in Newton before, including Cantin’ Abruzzi in the Highlands. Bocca Bella’s tiny size and casual menu let him do just about all the cooking himself.
“He runs the kitchen and I run the front of the house,’’ Vega says, and the recipes stay locked in the chef’s head. “People ask me all the time how he makes the eggplant Parm so light, and I have to tell them I don’t know. He doesn’t even give his son-in-law the secrets.’’
Boccabella also changes the dinner menu every day; patrons can call after 3 to find out what’s on for that night. Vega says there’s almost always pasta, chicken, seafood, meat, and that eggplant Parmigiana. A recent special of agnolotti carbonara featured delicate pillows of pasta, stuffed with prosciutto and cheese, in an unctuous sauce — awfully rich, but awfully tasty, too. Another night, you might find roast pork, pesto chicken, or lasagna.
Lighter options include standard salads (and some less standard ones, such as chickpea or olive), as well as grilled panini. The Caprese, stuffed with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, is a customer favorite, Vega says. Cheesy, golden, and generously sized, it’s even more inviting with a few slices of prosciutto.
On the more American side, the Auburn burger is a generous patty topped with sharp cheddar and carefully grilled onions. Like the panini and other burgers (including turkey), it comes with a bag of chips and a dab of nicely vinegared red-cabbage slaw. No wonder Bocca Bella already does a brisk takeout business at lunch.
But it’s most charming at nightfall, as a few already-regulars pick a quiet table, order a glass of red, and check the specials. The wisest ones slow their pace to match the friendly but relaxed service, the better to save room for dessert. Smart move: Most of the pastries are made in-house, and, from the airy baba au rhum to the creamy tiramisu, they’re delectable. Hmm. Better come back tomorrow for afternoon tea.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.