photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Bocce Union Square
In the early aughts, there was a television show hosted by Xzibit called Pimp My Ride. We don’t currently have time to explain who Xzibit is, but the show itself always involved a very average car getting a big makeover. A van might wind up with a hot tub, for example, or an old TransAm might get a new paint job, a chandelier, and an incredibly impractical espresso machine.
Bocce Union Square isn’t a car, but it reminds us of this concept. This restaurant is, essentially, a nice sedan tricked out like a sports car. The Italian food here is perfectly good, but what really makes this spot worthwhile is the fact that it’s in an open-air space at the top of Union Square Park. It’s seasonal, which means you won’t be able to come here once people start putting scarves on mannequins in store windows - but if you hang out in the area, it’s currently one of your best options for some quality time outdoors.
The overall environment at Bocce feels sort of like an Italian piazza as envisioned by a South Beach millionaire who spent a week in Rome. The main structure (Union Square’s Pavilion building) has columns and a tiled roof, and there’s a big patio out front where you can sit and count the number of people who walk into the Barnes & Noble across the street. As promised by the name, this place also has bocce - but there’s only one court, and it’s small and kind of sad. So skip that, and get dinner or drinks instead.
The menu isn’t so exciting that you’ll hyperventilate into a paper bag, but it should make everyone happy. We like the thin-crust pizzas that come with toppings like thick pepperoni and pickled chilis, and the smaller plates like the snap pea caesar and fluke crudo are better than what you’d expect from a high-volume place in a touristy area. There are also a few pastas, although perfectly-decent pasta is somehow less satisfying than perfectly-decent pizza - so stick to the pizza.
As long as you don’t mind a crowd, this is also a nice place to just get cocktails with some friends or coworkers. The bartenders might ignore you for a few minutes, and the frozen negroni might taste a little too sweet - but the fact that you’re outdoors should help you forget about those things. This is the Pimp My Ride effect, and it’s what makes this otherwise pretty normal restaurant worth your time.
This is just a large disk of baked pizza dough, and when you see someone else eating it, you’ll immediately know that it should be a part of your life. It comes with a side of ricotta for dipping, and makes a great snack.
There’s nothing revolutionary about this, but it’s perfectly cooked, and you won’t wind up chewing on a piece of squid for 10 minutes. So if you cope with warm weather by eating deep-fried seafood, go for it.
This is one of our favorite pizzas here, in part because it isn’t too complicated. It’s covered in cheese, pickled chilis, and pepperoni, and you should share it with someone who appreciates such things.
This pizza with sausage, peppers, and tomatoes on top is another good option. Have a few cocktails alongside it, and you’ll become a happier person who’s more pleasant to be around.
The mushroom pie gets a little soggy after a few minutes, and it isn’t too remarkable to begin with. It isn’t bad, but you should order one of the above pizzas instead.
Snap Pea Caesar
This is a caesar salad with snap peas and green beans instead of lettuce, and it works surprisingly well. It’s fresh and crunchy, and it tastes like summer.
We like al dente pasta, but this one’s a little chewy. It also tastes overwhelmingly like rosemary, to the extent that you’ll wonder if you accidentally used rosemary-flavored toothpaste earlier. Stick to the pizza.