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Pepe Bocca: a warm taste of Italy in Davis Square

I haven’t been to either of Tufts’s dining halls since the semester began, and with Pepe Bocca in Davis Square, there’s even more reason not to. A different owner has taken over what used to be Sessa’s Cold Cuts after its 35 years run and turned it into Pepe Bocca, a self-proclaimed ‘Purveyor of Fine Italian Foods’. What that name doesn’t let on is the warm feeling of la famiglia hugging you once you’re within the walls of 414 Highland Avenue. Pepe Bocca is more than a deli and more than an Italian gourmet store. It is a living room where Giovanni and his friends welcome you with fragrant smells of home-cooked food and home-baked breads. It is a community space where erstwhile strangers can enjoy samples of zucchini squash basil ricotta focaccia, or flip through Italian cookbooks lying in wait on a homey wooden table.

IMG_1890When you enter, you’ll notice counters with signboards identifying the various sections of the store: ‘la cucina’ on your left, and on your right, ‘l formaggi’ and ‘la salumeria’. At La Cucina, foods prepped for the day include lasagne, delicious pizza, stromboli and more; another counter also sells cooked items like roasted red peppers, fried eggplant and meatballs by the pound. L formaggi sells all kinds of cheese, and la salumeria offers you Italian cured meats. But before you even get to any of these counters, your attention will be fought for by neat rows of food items and cooking complements — who knew there could be so many types of balsamic vinegars or olive oils?

IMG_1891For lunch this Tuesday, I got a mozzarella, tomato and basil panini and a latté — the former was juicy with quality oil that uplifted instead of weighing down, and the latter was a robust cup that didn’t lose its power as I let it cool. Other customers got lasagne, meatball sandwiches, and chicken milanese. As many people dine in as they do take out, and many packed away olive breadsticks, calzones, and tomato basil pizza slices.

IMG_1885The friendliness of the staff makes it very easy for customers to give well-deserved compliments, and I overheard plenty. I transcribed as a customer gushed so you can be sure I’m not exaggerating: “He [the gusher’s neighbour] said I’d regret my life if I didn’t come here and try the pizza immediately. “It’d define your life,” he said.” Another customer boomed, “BEST PIZZA EVER. So happy to have you guys here.”

IMG_1894At this point I will stop making happy sentences about the good people and good smells and instead relate to you the amazing smorgasbord of items for sale. Move around the store and feast your eyes on all sorts of cooking equipment from “The Big Book of Pasta” to baking stones, from 6-in-1 graters to cannoli tubes. Move closer to the shelves and pick a favorite olive oil or two — the variety is impressive, and their implicit quality is easily trusted. I don’t usually buy loaves of bread, but from Pepe Bocca’s bread oven I bought a big ciabatta (because I wanted to try my new fig spread and basil EVOO immediately). They also make it clear that all breads are baked in-house with attentive love to traditional recipes.

IMG_1873Comparisons with Dave’s Fresh Pasta are inevitable, especially since both have homemade sauces (with Pepe Bocca focusing on Marinara and Bolognese), sandwiches (of which Pepe Bocca also has a smaller range for now), and gourmet items. What makes Pepe Bocca stand out as an exciting newcomer to the Davis Square community is its extensive range of specialty Italian items, its stunning hospitality, and the genuine feeling that you are now with a very wonderful slice of Italy.

— Min Yi Tan

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