7805 Ventnor Ave. Margate City, NJ 08402 Tel: 609-823-3663



When our kids were infants, eating out was pretty easy.  They stayed in their infant seats, slept most of the time and didn’t throw food.  Almost every Friday night we took them to our favorite restaurant,TJ’s (we were still living in Malvern at the time).  Sometime around the age of one and half, we banned eating out with them.  It was just an awful experience.  It was nearly impossible to get through a meal without a floor covered in food, screaming kids who needed to be walked around the restaurant and plates of untouched food.  Our twins are now three and half and while we still breathe a sigh of relief when we have successfully gotten through a meal in a restaurant, it has gotten a lot easier.  It’s helpful to identify kid-friendly restaurants and here is a round-up of our favorites around the shore.



Bocca in Margate tops the list for so many reasons.  My mama friends and I like to go to storytime at the Margate library and we frequently go to Bocca afterwards for lunch.  Yesterday we walked in with 12 kids (including 4 set of twins) and they welcomed us warmly.  The owner, Lou, is so nice and goes above and beyond to make us comfortable.  Usually they give the kids pizza dough to play with but yesterday he actually let each kid go behind the counter to help make pizza (photo above).  Besides being accommodating to the kiddie crowd, the food is fantastic and they offer more than just pizza.  Their entrees are delicious and they serve alcohol, which is always a bonus in my book.

Margate's Music Revival 

May 8, 2013- By Ray Schweibert










Steve Moore and the M.I.A. Band (above)

The slogan South Jersey Strong was heard often in the weeks and months following Sandy’s devastation, and the expression may best be epitomized by a thriving Margate music scene that appears nearly back to full strength at the six-month mark of the storm’s passing.

“Margate loves its music,” says musician Steve Moore, singer and saxophonist for Steve Moore and the M.I.A. band that plays the next two Friday nights (May 10 and 17, from 9:30pm-1:30am) at the latest addition to Margate’s live-music lineage, Bocca.

“You’re seeing it grow again at places like Steve & Cookie’s [By the Bay, which hosts live jazz nightly], at Sofia where my friend [singer Christine Daisy] fronts duos and trios on weekends, of course at Maynard’s and now Bocca. The shore’s coming back. Margate was hit hard but it’s starting to come back.”

Bocca is sited on Ventnor Avenue (as is Johnny’s Café of Margate, which hosts live music Wednesdays and Sundays and does DJ-staffed dance parties Friday and Saturday nights), and suffered less Sandy damage than Amherst Avenue establishments Sofia, Maynard’s, Steve & Cookie’s and Tomatoe’s (which also morphs into more of an entertainment destination after peak dining hours are over).

“[Bocca] only opened a week or two before Sandy, then managed to get back up and running almost the day after the storm passed,” says Moore, whose M.I.A. band also includes Tony Nappi on guitar and vocals, Rocky Pepino on bass and, when needed, drummer Scott Clearfield and keyboardist Nick Koutotsios.

“All the other restaurants were wiped out and I’ll never forget, the day after, just about everybody who stayed in Margate through the storm was hanging out [at Bocca] and partying.


Bocca bistro brings acoustic jams to Margate in May 

May 1, 2013 – By Elisa Lala









Bocca Coal Fired Bistro is about to enter its first summer in Margate, and judging by the positive feedback and continuously packed house it’s been getting ever since it opened in the fall, it’s going to be a good one.

“This summer is going to be craziness,” says Director of Marketing and Social Media Erin Mahon, “and I mean that in a very good way.”

Bocca opened its doors Oct. 31, just days after Hurricane Sandy wreacked havoc on its hometown.

“We had eight inches of water inside,” Mahon says. “We had a cleanup team on standby and had the bar opened that Wednesday night (two days after the hurricane made landfall), serving drinks and pizza.”

Margate natives Lou Freedman and Ron Citta are the owners of Bocca. The longtime friends had shared joint business ventures in the past, but neither had ever owned a restaurant before Bocca.

Bocca’s prime location, which is right in the “heart of Margate” on Ventnor Avenue, formerly Glennings Sailfish Cafe, is what enticed the men to jump on the opportunity.

“It’s a great location and Margate needed something like Bocca in that area,” Mahon says. “It’s right in the center of everything, in walking distance from most people’s homes, two blocks from the beach.”

Mahon described Bocca Coal Fired Bistro as a gourmet pizzeria and bar with a “casual elegant” atmosphere. In others words, you can come in dressed up for an elegant evening dinner or you come in shorts and flip flops for a beer and a slice a pizza, the latter being their signature cuisine, made in their coal-fire ovens.

The venue can be divided into three separate spaces: the pizzeria, which offers on-site dining as well as takeout and delivery options; the dining room, which is little more of a formal setting; and the bar, which also has tables and live entertainment three days a week.



A polished Gem among South Jersey's overrated eateries 

February 9, 2013 – By D. Dorsey

I’ve been in the Food Service Industry for over two decades responsible for cultivating several CIA grads into formidable Chefs in all of our Dining establishments in Philadelphia’s “Best Of.” I’m not one to take much stock in a culinary review written; more often than not, to help bail-out their “friend’s sinking restaurant.” This is my first written review, as I normally verbally share my favorites in an attempt to keep the public away..I just felt very strongly that I share my dining experience with the inquisitive. Each one of the casually paced courses were prepared to order and presented with such care served proudly by the well-versed staff. My personal favorite entree that evening was the Veal Picatta. A staple on most menus; however, this dish was spectacular ! The farm to table ingredients were bold and bountiful. With each bite my only regret was that I was that closer to clearing my plate.

Please set aside an evening to treat yourselves to an excellent meal. You deserve it.


Hurricane Sandy forced Margate bistro to restart, less than three weeks after it opened 

January 14, 2013 – By Martin DeAngelis


The owners of Bocca Coal Fired Bistro spent close to $1.5 million and more than 10 months gutting a failed Margate restaurant, then rebuilding it and customizing it from the ground up. They spent so much time on all the details, they missed the busy beach season in 2012, and didn’t open their bar and restaurant until Oct. 10.

Less than three weeks later, Hurricane Sandy ripped through South Jersey and flooded the brand-new Bocca, which was already becoming a hot spot in its hometown.

“I was numb,” said Lou Freedman, a partner whose home — just a three-block walk from his business — suffered flooding of its own in the storm.

But the Bocca owners were also prepared for Sandy when it hit Oct. 29, sending 9 inches of water in the front of the restaurant and about 5 inches all the way to the back.

“We knew it was going to be bad,” said another partner, Ron Citta, also of Margate, and so they had a cleanup crew already lined up and in place before the storm started.

Plus they had built their restaurant knowing — from years of living in the area — that flooding was a potential problem in their neighborhood. Freedman said they got a fresh lesson in that last July, when a bad rainstorm hit Margate as they were working on Bocca, and water backed up in the street out front, busy Ventnor Avenue.

“A car went by — and a wave broke in the building,” he said, adding that at that point in the project, they had just a temporary wooden front on the restaurant, which is the site of the former Sailfish Cafe and Margate Pub, among other old incarnations.

That’s why there’s no wood in the floors. Everything is tile now, although a small, private room behind the bar was originally carpeted in October. But once Sandy flooded thing, the owners tore out the rugs and the walls of their former 7805 Room — the name came from the street address — and expanded their bar seating.

Plus after that July incident, they added a concrete wall in the kitchen to protect the heart of their operation — the coal-burning oven that runs at close to 900 degrees, and gave Bocca part of its name. (Bocca is Italian for “mouth,” the owners explain.)

So professional help, from a crew of about 20 from Statewide Commercial Cleaning, plus those flooding preparations they built in business, helped Bocca open its doors again to customers by Nov. 1, just three days after the storm. That made it one of the first businesses on Absecon Island to come back from Sandy — and one of the first buildings in a dark Margate to have its lights back on, thanks to a generator they also had in place before the storm, Citta adds.

But it took more than that to get the restaurant back in business, and for that, Freedman said he can only thank the people of his hometown.

“It was incredible, how many people knocked on the door and offered to help,” he said, adding that the volunteers ended up being “dozens of … locals, friends, people I knew — and people I hardly knew, but knew their faces.”

The help also came from other restaurants in town, the owners added. Places that couldn’t open yet themselves let Bocca borrow nonperishable supplies so the restaurant could keep up with the demand of being one of the few places around selling food in those first few days.

Its first night back, Bocca was open for beer only. By the next day — although they had to throw out 5,000 or so pounds of refrigerated food — they were able to start again cooking pizzas, the restaurant’s signature specialty.

“And the heat from the coal oven helped dry things out,” adds Bill Walsh, of Galloway Township, another partner.
The selection was limited: A pizza menu that normally takes up two full pages of the restaurant’s booklet of food options was cut down to two basic choices — plain or pepperoni. But the place was jammed.

The owners also wanted to make sure they helped their town, too. They sent pizzas out to the police and city crews who were working long hours to recover from the storm. And Rob Pappas, the chef, said he and his crew made up “care packages” to deliver to local residents suffering from the storm.

“I threw together stuff they could make meals out of — chicken, beef, bread … peanut butter,” said Pappas, a restaurant veteran who adds that when he handed over one box of food, “It was a to a guy bigger than me — and he starts crying.”

So the chef struggled not to follow suit.

Things are mostly back to normal now at Bocca, but the owners will obviously never forget everything they went through just to get their doors open again — so soon after they opened them in the first place.
“You really know who your friends are when something like that happens,” Freedman said. “It was just pretty cool.”



Casual pizza, upscale bistro mesh well at Bocca in Margate 

December 30, 2012 – By C.C.HOYT Press Restaurant Critic

It’s called Bocca Coal Fired Bistro in Margate. And while for many foodies, it’s the “coal fired” part that grabs the imagination, we were drawn to the “bistro” part. A little bit fancier than the typical mom and pop bistro, Bocca has a menu with something for everyone, turning out some really first class plates in a comfortable setting.

It seemed like we had hardly settled in when a wire basket with a warm sesame loaf arrived accompanied by a bowl of tasty green olive oil with herbs.

The menus are nicely appointed, with separate listings for food and speciality drinks. A wooden table-tent listed some beer specials and reminded us to save room for dessert. Dishes on the menu are marked with a coal fired oven icon if they spend any time in that high heat. Daily specials are printed inside the regular menu folder.

We chose the Shrimp Lejon ($8), the appetizer special of the day. The shrimp were served on a bed of lettuce and tightly wrapped in slices of very crispy bacon — something that can make or break the dish. The dipping sauce was a kind of horseradish aioli, good enough that we kept adding more to each shrimp with our knife.

Entrees come with a choice of soup or salad. The soup du jour was a shrimp and crab chowder, chunky with potatoes, corn, and other vegetables. Tiny shrimp and shards of crab meat floated in a flavorful, unthickened broth.

The house salad was mostly lettuce, with scattered garnishes of grape tomato, grated carrot, sweet peppers, and cucumbers. The blue cheese dressing we chose was loaded with big chunks of blue cheese, just the way my dining companion likes it.

An entree of gnocchi e funghi ($16) was potato dumplings in a homemade tomato sauce, dotted with ciliegine (cherry-sized balls of fresh mozzarella) and garnished with coal fire-roasted mushrooms. Parmesan cheese and basil finished the dish.

Another item from the daily special list, and our server’s personal favorite, was the veal osso bucco ($31). The tender veal shank was perfectly braised, falling-off-the-bone tender and yet still moist inside. It even came with a tiny spoon tucked into the best part of all — the buttery marrow inside the bone. In place of the more typical gremolata on top, was sauteed spinach and strips of red pepper, all topped by a pile of “burnt onions” as crispy garnish to the dish.

Instead of wine, we chose a bottle of Goose Island Mild Winter beer, an English-style dark beer that offset the slight bitterness of the onion garnish.

Too full for dessert, we ordered the Nutella mousse ($8) served in a martini glass. We had seen it pass our table earlier and didn’t forget about it. Bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup topped up a good dessert that might be too mild for the serious Nutella addict. It was a good finish to a fairly heavy meal.

The restaurant has three more or less distinct areas: the pizzeria, where the coal fired oven resides; the main dining room where we ate; and the bar area, which was packed with customers when we entered and left. We realized how small the cozy dining room was when four or five tables were lined up in a row for a birthday party, leaving only a few tables and three high-top booths that line one wall. There are additional tables and booths in the busy bar area and plenty of seating in the pizzeria.

It is always fun to be in a busy restaurant where the floor show goes on all night. There is something about the dynamics of a restaurant staff and customers that often is more interesting to watch than a soap opera.

We liked our waiter a lot, friendly like a next-door neighbor and very low key. The black uniform and nicely monogrammed apron had just the right tone for the casual attitude Bocca has claimed. There were a few service missteps, like menus and plates lingering after they were needed. And the server who replaced our silverware handed things directly to us rather than putting them on the table.

The restaurant itself has been completely redone with an understated brick front, colorful walls and new lighting. The only thing we would change is those flat screen televisions in the bar that distracted us from the business at hand — devouring some really fine food and drink in casual, yet upscale surroundings.

Bocca Coal Fired Bistro
7805 Ventnor Ave., Margate City

Phone: 609-823-3663

Hours: 11 to 1 a.m. Mondays to Thursdays; 11 to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon to midnight Sundays

Rating: 3 stars

Liquor license: Yes

Credit cards: most major

Disabled access: Yes

Price range: Appetizers $8 to $14; entrees $9 to $38

Our bill for two: $78 plus tip

Website: boccanj.com

Copyright, 2012, South Jersey Publishing Company t/a The Press of Atlantic City


Coal Fired Up in Margate at Bocca 

December 9, 2012 – By Michele Errichetti

pizza counter

The new Bocca Coal Fired Bistro in Margate opened after the summer season and just in time for Hurricane Sandy. In spite of these setbacks, partners Lou Freedman and Ron Citta have managed to open with an impressive amount of business especially for this time of year at the shore. The bistro is beautifully decorated with a more casual pizza side and a sophisticated modern dining side complete with bar.

Both men grew up in Margate and totally transformed the former Sailfish location inside and out. The coal fired ovens are smoking hot, burning at 900 to 1100 degrees and can cook a pizza in two minutes. Talk about instant gratification! Chef Robert Pappas makes his own sauce, bread, roasts his own red hots, and roasted peppers. They make their own soup, stocks and demi-glaces in house too. That’s the way it should be and it shows! Bocca offers a full menu from appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas (of course), main courses, desserts and a full bar.

veg cf

On this afternoon out with my husband, a local builder, we were surveying the damage from the hurricane and decided to stop in to Bocca for lunch. Dinner time had been so busy, so we thought we would try our luck. There was a nice crowd for a cold fall day at the Jersey Shore. We were seated in a beautiful booth near the bar. I knew I was having a coal fired pizza, I mean how could you not? I finally decided on the Vegetarian Coal Fired Pizza with garlic, olive oil, Portabella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, marinated yellow tomato, coal fired oven roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella. What’s not to like? The crust was thin and crispy with just the right amount of char and taste. The veggies were fresh and plentiful.


And, a cup of Minestrone homemade with beans, pasta, chunks of tomatoes, and veggies in a flavorful broth. You could tell it was homemade.

tuscan salmon

My husband had the minestrone and the Tuscan Salmon Salad with an amazing charred glaze, and cooked to juicy perfection nestled on top of a super fresh mesclun salad with marinated roasted garlic, coal fire roasted red peppers, tomato, kalamata olives, pine nuts, pepperoncini, capers and crumbled Gorgonzola in an apple cider vinaigrette. Very good salad! Well done. They served well crafted, sesame seeded bread for the table as well. Nice touch! If they keep the quality at this high level with the fair prices they offer now, this bistro is a homerun! You won’t be able to get a table come summer!



Coal-fired pizza lands in Margate at Bocca 

October 25, 2012 – By Michael Huber


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.






Click here to read the AC BMW review!


Where There's Bocca, There's Fire

October 17, 2012 – By Frank Gabriel


Our first opportunity to glimpse the space that would, as of Wednesday, Oct. 10, become Margate’s new Italian eatery Bocca, was early this past summer. At that time, the Ventnor Avenue property most locals recall as the former Sailfish had been stripped down to bare walls and earth.

A corner location at North Essex, it was still very much in the incipient moments of a transformation that would ultimately involve more than $1 million in construction.

In short, a monumental project.

Visiting during their “soft” opening weekend, it appears the investment confidence of Bocca’s partners was indeed well founded. Despite being mobbed with patrons — literally three deep at the lengthy bar — Bocca’s front of the house, and especially the kitchen staff, did a remarkable job. Their juggling act began with handling those overflow crowds.

Initially told to expect a 30- to 45-minute wait for a table, we were pleasantly surprised to hear our names called at the 20-minute mark. Seated at a four-top in their main dining area — there is a separate, attached pizzeria — we were already savoring a crisp pie ordered during down time at the bar.

Called the “Guido,” it brought a wild ride of ingredients; coal-fire roasted Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, sun-dried tomato, cannellini beans, garlic, and sharp, provolone and mozzarella cheeses. Crisp and well structured, the crust held together despite this cornucopia. Those white Italian beans, the only time we’ve seen them used in pizza, brought a depth of creamy texture that worked wonders against the natural chew of greens and tomatoes.

Once the meal continued with a glorious reinvention of the classic Florentine summer salad called panzanella. Generally revered as a simple recipe to utilize leftover bread with tomatoes and onions, executive chef Rob Pappas’ resplendent, soaring take stretched to include a mix of lettuces, parmigiano-reggiano, artichokes, caper berries, albacore tuna, prosciutto and red onions dressed with olive oil and balsamic. The tuna, formed in the middle like a snow-capped peak, was an ideal portion of quality protein.

This salad was so large it made us forget the mild disappointment of not being able to sample any of Pappas’ quartet of sliders — pork, coal-fired meatball, burger and buffalo chicken — all sold out by 8pm. Which, by inference, means they must be pretty darned good.

What we thankfully didn’t miss was another house specialty, coal-fired wings. Offered in Buffalo, hot and honey, Thai sweet chile and garlic herb, we went for the pair with geographical designations. Both were well done, as ordered, removed from heat just as the crisp skin began to blister, rendering the tangy poultry juicy and delicious.

Entrees began with an out-of-the-ordinary pasta called short rib ravioli. While that lusty cut of beef has become a modern chef’s darling, it remains rarely utilized in fillings of this sort. Six large raviolis stuffed with a well-seasoned, smooth mix, proved tender and hearty — just the right thing to close out an autumn day where chilly morning temps dipped below freezing. Making the experience sophisticated was a sauce of seared exotic mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, Marsala and a hint of cream. Simultaneously sweet and woodsy, this auburn liquid added layers of complexity to the simple, but superior, pasta and beef.

My partner’s option, from and extensive list of Italian platters, was eggplant saltimbocca. Traditionally prepared with sautéed veal layered by Prosciutto, sage and mozzarella, the eggplant did an admirable job of standing in. Presented atop wilted spinach and finished with a mushroom-tomato demi glace, the eggplant — rather a culinary cipher — had plenty of contrasting playmates to liven up its naturally demure essence.

Our only complaint was undercooked slices of Tuscan-style potatoes, which would have benefited greatly from additional time spent roasting. We only sampled one dessert on this busy night, when patrons were still streaming in the door at nearly 10 in the evening. That choice, a nutella mousse, was delivered in a clear coffee mug. Cool and sweet, the chestnut-hued pudding, layered with slices of fresh banana was topped by whipped cream, crushed hazelnuts and an Amaretto-flavored biscotti.

In case you were wondering, and not of Italian origin, “bocca” translates as “mouth.” From what we could see during their opening weekend, there is much worth exploring at this bocca.

Bocca Coal Fired Bistro

Address: 7805 Ventnor Ave., Margate

Phone: 823-6900

Web: boccanj.com

Details: Liquor license, 
major credit cards accepted.



Bocca Coal Fired Bistro is a hot new place in town, located on Ventnor Avenue right in the heart of Margate City. It’s bar scene is hopping and it’s the perfect sit-down restaurant to meet up with friends or spend an evening out with the family.

There is certainly no shortage of good places to eat when you’re at the Jersey Shore. Wherever you go, you’re bound to find an excellent sub, slice of pizza, or big fluffy bagel; and of course, no one does diner food like New Jersey, that’s for sure. But what if you want something a little more refined? Not fancy schmancy upscale and expensive, but not a place you’d wear sweats to, either.

Enter Bocca Coal Fired Bistro, an Italian eatery with an intense focus on its coal fire oven that produces its specialty pizzas as well as the vegetables and meats featured in other signature dishes. Bocca opened its doors on October 10, 2012 and has since proven to be a happening spot in Margate. You can go to Bocca three times in the same week and have three completely different experiences.

Sit in the bar and lounge area any day from 11am-6pm and take in the lively happy hour scene with $2 domestic draft beers, $5 house wines, $4 well mixed drinks and $6 well martinis and manhattans. You can nosh on two-for-one finger foods such as the Black and Tan Onion Rings or Tail Tenders with your choice of spicy buffalo, hot & honey, Thai sweet chili or BBQ sauce; or try the Coal Fire Nonna Pizza for only $6. You can also enjoy dinner off their extensive menu in either one of their two dining areas. For a casual affair, have a seat in the low-key pizza parlor-esque area; but if you’re looking for a nice evening out, opt for a table in the formal dining room. Wherever you decide to eat in Bocca, you’re going to like it. Trust me.

Bocca means mouth in Italian, quite the appropriate name for a restaurant, especially one that leaves your “bocca” very happy. My friends and I sat at the table in the lounge area so we were surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the bar. It was really busy; there wasn’t a seat open at the bar and every table in the lounge was occupied. Not bad for a Saturday night in the dead of winter in Margate, a beach town primarily full of visitors in the summer and pretty empty once the temperatures drop. But hey, just because it’s winter at the Jersey Shore, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still locals around – and the locals gotta eat!

Aside from being known for their coal fired pizzas, Bocca has a popular French Onion Soup as well. Layer upon layer of crispy, crunchy fried onions top a steaming hot coating of cheese covering an even steamier bowl of soup. Anyone who’s had French onion soup knows that it is all about those onions and that cheese. Bocca obviously knows what they’re doing.

Having already been impressed by the soup alone, we had some high expectations for dinner. Let’s start with that Bocca staple: pizza! The Vegetarian Pizza comes chock-full of veggies: portabella mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, marinated yellow tomato, and coal-fire-oven-roasted red peppers. Garlic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh mozzarella take it over the top with big bursts of flavor. This is so much more than your typical cheese pizza. The specialty coal fired pies only come in 12” so it’d be great as an appetizer for the table, or you can order it as an entrée for two to share. If you want something a little simpler, traditional pies come in small or large sizes and can be ordered by the slice. But come on, if you’re going to a place with a coal fire grill, you definitely want to splurge on one of their coal fired pizzas.

There is quite a variety of entrée selections available, ranging from sandwiches and burgers to chicken, veal, seafood, and beef. Whatever you’re craving, Bocca is here to satisfy. Next up is from the seafood portion of the menu, the Salmon Augustine: a perfectly cooked herb-seared salmon filet with sautéed Jumbo gulf shrimp, mushrooms, artichokes, and plum tomatoes tossed in a Prosecco Key lime reduction, and Tuscan potatoes on the side. There was such a nice balance of tastes and texture in this dish. It hit all kinds of flavor notes and is a definite winner if you like seafood. Now every Italian restaurant had better have some good pasta dishes. One of the dinner specials of the night was Pesto Clams and Mussels, a heaping bowl of clams and mussels with garlic, basil, and sun-dried tomatoes in a creamy pesto broth served over linguine. The many components of this dish complimented each other so well. The pesto enveloped every ounce of food and was prominent in each bite. It was hard to put the fork down…

No dinner is complete without something sweet, right? Of course dessert was on the horizon, and there was no skimping on this one. We wanted chocolate, and that’s exactly what we got. The Chocolate Tower… Sounds dangerously indulgent already, doesn’t it? Two layers of decadent, fudgy chocolate cake alternating with layers of a chocolate mousse-like filling, topped with dark chocolate ganache. Homemade cannolis drizzled in chocolate sauce and livened up even more with fresh whipped cream. I think it’s safe to say we got our chocolate fix.

Bocca has live entertainment on select nights, as well as special menus for the holidays. They also host weekly whiskey tastings on Wednesday nights, as well as other comfort food specials throughout the week. Meatloaf Mondays and Turkey Tuesdays dish up specials for lunch for $8.99 and dinner for $15.99. If you’re a meat and potatoes lover, a $22.99 Prime Rib dinner every Thursday night is your new happy place.

Judging by the crowd, Bocca is the place to be right now, and it’ll be even more jam-packed once the Northerners trek on down. The prices are reasonable, ranging from $4-18 for soups, salads and appetizers; pizzas range from $9-14, and entrees are anywhere from $9-27 (sandwiches and burgers are on the lower price end with seafood up top.)  To those who have already begun planning their summer at the shore, add this to your list of restaurants to go to while you’re in town; you don’t want to miss out!