Local residents will probably remember the Sailfish Cafe as a bar/restaurant that was a local institution for many years. When it closed, a series of other restaurant concepts took over the location, but nothing seemed to last longer than a season or two.
Bocca Coal Fired Bistro opened just a few weeks ago at the same Margate location. It's doubtful customers will confuse it with any of the previous businesses.
That's because Bocca is smoking hot. And not just the decor, the bar, the menu and the staff.
Bocca's coal-fired oven reaches temperatures between 900 and 1,000 degrees.
The oven burns more than 100 pounds of coal each day, and there is never any down time. The oven must remain constantly hot, even overnight, otherwise it takes too much time to bring the oven up to the proper cooking temperatures.
While Bocca offers both traditional and coal-fired pizza, it is the coal-fired product that is receiving most of the attention. A regular deck-style pizza oven cooks a pizza at 450 degrees in nine minutes; a coal-fired pizza oven produces temperatures above 900 degrees, cooking a pie in just under two minutes.
Coal-fired oven cooking requires more attention and more skill on the part of the pizza maker. That extra care gives Bocca's pizza a little more char on the crust than a regular oven and a taste the customer will notice.
Robert Pappas is the executive chef and Robert Baldwin is the general manager at Bocca, where pizza is not the only thing that goes into the coal-fired oven.
"We offer the option of coal-fired chicken wings or traditional fried crispy wings," Pappas says. "I roast my red peppers, long hots, meatballs and sausages in there."
In the future, steaks may find a place in the coal-fired oven, too.
Along with baking their own garlic knots for the bread basket, the kitchen is making all their own stocks, soups, sauces and demi-glaze. Of course, Pappas makes his own red sauce.
Two of the most popular coal-fired pizzas are the nonna ($9), made with chunky fresh plum tomatoes, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh mozzarella, oregano and fresh sweet basil, and the sweet caramelized onion & prosciutto ($14), made with coal fire-roasted caramelized onions, prosciutto, gorgonzola, mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil. Each comes in the 12-inch size only.
"Most tables have one or the other," Baldwin says.
After pizza, the biggest seller to date is the chicken limon ($21), which is parmesan-egg-battered and lightly sauteed in a garlic white wine sauce with lump crabmeat, lemon, basil, caper berries and sun-dried tomatoes, served with imported linguine. The same dish can be made with eggplant ($19) instead of chicken, or with veal ($29).
Other chicken/veal/eggplant dishes can be made parmesan, marsala, or saltim"Bocca" style.
In an Italian restaurant you would expect the pasta creations to stand out. At Bocca, they do.
Short rib ravioli ($17) are stuffed and served with exotic mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in a rich Lombardo's sweet marsala sauce with a touch of cream. Crab ravioli ($19), also a big seller, have a crabmeat and ricotta cheese filling with a vodka tomato cream sauce.
Lasagna ($15) and gnocchi ($16) also are available, along with traditional pasta choices of linguine, cappellini, penne or fettuccine, served with pomodoro, marinara, garlic and oil, alfredo, Bolognese or vodka sauce.
Healthy Eats is a section that offers smaller portions of protein with larger portions of vegetables. Gluten-friendly choices are available as are plates for those who are carb-conscious.
Pasta di verdure ($16) is made with imported whole-wheat penne tossed with sauteed eggplant, spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, asparagus and grape tomatoes with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic. Pollo ala Mattone ($16) is marinated, open-flame grilled, organic, free-range chicken breast over mesclun greens that are then paired with grilled fresh asparagus, red onions and peppers with a warm balsamic vinaigrette.
Steaks and chops are listed under the heading "carne." Bocca's filet ($32) is certified angus beef.
A grilled flat-iron steak ($22) is topped with gorgonzola cheese and a sweet balsamic syrup; bistecca ala Fiorentina ($28) is marinated in olive oil and rosemary.
At Bocca, all entrees are served with bread and a choice of soup du jour, minestrone or house salad with the option of substituting French onion soup or a Caesar salad for an additional $2.
Bocca's specialty sandwiches include the All-American burger ($9) made with 8 ounces of prime certified angus beef.
The "12 & Under Menu" includes many kid favorites such as cheese ravioli ($5); homemade baked macaroni and cheese ($6); hand-breaded chicken fingers and fries ($5); pizza ($6); and grilled chicken with vegetables ($7).
The two owners of Bocca, Lou Freedman and Ron Citta, grew up in Margate and remember a time when families had to leave the island and go offshore to find a family place to dine. Their concept at Bocca has changed all that.
"We had a family of five in the other night. The lady had a salad, the gentleman had a steak and the kids all had pizza," Pappas says.
The adults had a few glasses of wine, and the kids were happy. Everybody was happy.
"We want to appeal to families," Pappas says.