Midtown Fayetteville, which is loosely defined as College Ave north of downtown and south of the interchange, has become a humble beacon for quality local dining that is gradually pushing the chains out that once dominated the popular strip. In fact the nature of Midtown itself is perfectly reflected in Bocca Italian Eatery.
Bocca opened very quietly around a year ago with barely a whisper. “We just wanted to flip on the lights and see if anyone showed up,” owner Keith Burmylo likes to say.
The building at 2036 College Ave started life as a Back Yard Burger. Burmylo and co-owner Mike Rohrbach (of Flying Burrito) completely stripped the building, tearing back the remnants of the former national chain burger joint and building back a cozy local Italian eatery. To cap it all off they then built one of the best patios in Northwest Arkansas out front.
The entire menu is built around the Italian wood oven that sits dominantly on the other side of the door to the kitchen.
Pizzas are always the first thing that come up when you talk wood oven, and Bocca does these extremely well. The high heat (around 1,000 degrees typically) pizza is some of the best of this style in NWA. It gives the dough a nice crisp bite on the outside, while staying warm and soft on the inside, something that is impossible to get with lower oven temps.
If you stop at pizza though you are missing the best parts. The pasta is always exceptional, which is made from scratch daily, and is paired often with fresh seafood or meats. The daily specials here are the best parts of the menu.
“We are always looking at what we can get in fresh for specials,” owner Keith Burmylo says. “So we will have various types of fish, other seafood, or special cuts of meat that we are able to pull in that day. It really allows us to constantly try out new flavors and ideas.”
Also a big hit are the steaks, something that has become one of the most unexpected hits of the restaurant.
“We started off and I just assumed we would sell a ton of pizza and a handful of pasta dishes. The steaks were only put on because they turned out so well in the oven and I personally liked them,” Burmylo tells us. “Turns out everyone else does as well, and we sell a lot more steaks than I ever imagined.”
The steaks are cooked up in a cast iron skillet that sits preheated in the oven. The combination of the hot skillet and wood fire from the oven creates a very unique sear while keeping the steaks perfectly inside.
The combination of freshness and local flair makes Bocca feel as if it has always been part of the Midtown landscape, which is a culinary landscape that cannot be overlooked in Fayetteville. Bocca along with some other places such as Mockingbird Kitchen, Feltner Brothers, Cafe Rue Orleans, Khana, and others are on the verge of turning this once chain burger land into a real culinary powerhouse.