When I lived in Connecticut about 15 years ago, my roommate and college buddy wanted to stop by his mom's work. So we drove into Downtown New Haven and pulled up in front of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. We stood in line and ordered apizza (that's the word for New Haven-style Neapolitan thin-crust pizza), and my buddy introduced me to his mom, a longtime server there. At the time I wasn't aware that I was standing in the place where I'd have the best pizza of my life.
If you know stuff about pizza, you may know that Frank Pepe is widely considered one of the world's best pizzerias. Opening in 1925, the New Haven original has since spread out with 11 additional locations across the East Coast. It's known primarily for its white clam pizza, in which chunks of fresh clam are studded about a landscape of garlic-and-oil-blitzed thin crust. A bunch of hard pecorino Romano covers the top. You'll devour half the thing before you realize it. It's that good.
Clam pizza isn't easy to find in Houston. In fact, I had yet to have a slice of it here ... that is until I visited Bocca Italian Kitchen and Lupo Pizzeria near Lake Houston on Wednesday night. This is where Justin Turner, the man behind the now-shuttered Bernie's Burger Bus, has landed, overseeing big Italian dinners and a wealth of pizza options.
The menu at Bocca stays pretty true to family-friendly Italian, from straight-up spaghetti and meatballs to chicken piccata. But when Turner strays from the usual, magic typically happens. Get a plate of thick spaghetti with crab meat and fried onions and drowning in rich coconut basil curry. Or start your meal with lightly fried octopus on flat-sliced potatoes, with a peppered-up tangerine vinaigrette. If there's a special on offer and it doesn't sound like you'll find it at Mama Leone's, take the risk.
But if you have a hankering for pizza, consider pushing the standard stuff (Tony, with red sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni; Franky, with chicken and Texas barbecue sauce) aside and springing for the Francesco. This version of white clam pie has mozzarella, so it's got a little more heft and creaminess. But with fresh clams on top, a bunch of roasted garlic bits, and a nicely charred crust, this is a fine attempt at capturing the rustic beauty of New Haven apizza.
The pizza is a good sign of what might come from Turner and the concepts he'll helm as Gastropub Productions, the group from McCord Development that's running the dining at Generation Park. If Turner brings more of those fresh ideas to his new work home, there's a good chance the Lake Houston area will become a destination for dining.