Bocce: A Local Legend Ships Pizzas of International Caliber

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Dino's Bocce Club Pizzeria, 4174 North Bailey Avenue, Amherst NY, bocceclubpizza.com
Frank's Bocce's Pizza, 8214 Transit Rd, Williamsville, NY 14221, boccespizza.com
Phone: 716.833.1344, 716.689.6662
Rating:    [learn more]
Pros:

Truly superb, traditional Buffalo-style pizzas that rival or exceed the very best competitors available elsewhere; excellent balances of sweet, spicy sauce, fresh cheese, oiled dough and toppings. Wings are also good.


Cons:

Very limited seating and prep time can run a little long. Locations vary a bit based on ownership.


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"Forget the Food Network contests and local debates: Bocce's, particularly on Bailey, offers world-class pizzas that are worthy of far greater attention than they already receive."


For decades, when we discussed Buffalo's best pizzas, there was only a single place that we would consider worthy of recommendation: "Bocce on Bailey," more specifically North Bailey Avenue in Amherst. The Bocce name is huge on both the signs and on the pizza boxes, which the store actually ships across the country via FedEx in half-baked form. But having gone through one of the area's best known family splits, Bocce on Bailey - formally known as Dino's Bocce Club Pizza - is a little different from a separate Transit Road location, Frank's Bocce's Pizza, which doesn't FedEx its food, but uses a virtually identical recipe that we can only describe as intoxicating. Though each place also serves specialty pizzas that were clearly inspired by the 1980's surge in both Domino's franchises and demands for Hawaiian and Mexican toppings, you can't go wrong with a personally customized version of the classic Cheese & Pepperoni, sold either as a huge 18" size that can feed two people without assistance, or in half (6-slice) or quarter (3-slice) sizes. Wings, salads, and subs are all handled competently at both of these locations; a less enjoyable experience kept us from going back to Dino's lesser-known Hopkins Road location for years.

The Story: According to the Bailey Avenue restaurant's official history, the year 1946 saw Dino Pacciotti and his brother-in-law Michael Sacco buy out a Buffalo bar called Bocce's, known at the time for patrons who enjoyed Bocce ball. After the buyout, the pair offered and developed a reputation for sandwiches, pizza, and Italian food, starting a take-out pizza service in 1955, moving to a larger location in 1958, and then opening the Bailey shop in 1959. Wings and submarine sandwiches joined the pizza in the mid-1970's, and the Hopkins store opened in 1988. Dino's son Jim took over in 1978, and solely runs the successful business, noting that 400 pizzas were once shipped to Denver, Colorado for a one-night celebration. This is the sort of restaurant that always seems to have people coming out the door with boxes, no matter when you visit.

The Transit location, Frank's Bocce's Pizza, traces its roots to 1940, when it says that Michael and Malvina Sacco opened the Buffalo location Dino's Bocce references in 1946. Frank Sacco is the owner of this location, and no discussion is made of the subsequent Bailey shop. The older Buffalo location on Clinton - a rougher location - continues to operate under separate management; it was notably robbed twice in early 2008.

Highs: Attempting to describe what makes the suburban Bocce shops' pizza special might seem akin to reciting the alphabet, but the truth is that the core ingredients and cooking of this easily mangled recipe can make or break a restaurant. There's the red sauce, which here blends rich tomato flavor and sweetness with a little tartness and spice; the fresh whole milk Mozzarella cheese, running to the edge of the crust and never lacking in quantity or depth of flavor, and the dough, made fresh daily and consistently delivered at a "just right" thickness that puts New York City's best places to shame. Whether you eat it this plain - we wouldn't - or top it with our favorites, namely spicy pepperonis, mushrooms, ham, and onions, with sweet or hot peppers optional, there's inevitably a special look and underbelly texture to a Bocce's pizza that comes from just the right amount of olive oil being used to crisp the crust, and the perfect amount of time sitting in an oven before it's handed off to you.

Lows: Neither of our favorite Bocce's locations is the sort of place that you'd want to hang out in - they have limited, take out-focused seating for their mostly pick up-oriented patrons, and for whatever reason, we have yet to see their employees crack a smile. Maybe it's the hot, massive pizza ovens behind them, or the sheer number of orders they have to deal with, especially during Bills and Sabres games.

While the prices will hardly run value-focused Pizza Huts or Domino's stores out of town, it's worth noting that comparing an 8-slice 14" large at Domino's isn't exactly fair given that you get 12 slices in Bocce's 18" whole pizza. That's a fact you'll need to keep in mind when calculating an order at Domino's, which is glad to sell you a large pizza with pepperoni for $10, while a Frank's Bocce's whole with pepperoni sells for around $14, and a Dino's Bocce's whole with pepperoni sells for around $15. At Dino's, it's an additional $1.79 per item you add on top; smaller half pizzas start at under $7.50 and add around $1 per topping. Overnighting a pizza across the country costs more for the shipping than for the pizza itself; we paid a little under $50 for a full 18" pizza with toppings, and the recipient in Texas was impressed, saying that he'd order again for himself.

You should also expect to wait a bit longer for your order than at most chain pizza joints, sometimes 5 or 10 minutes beyond the quoted 20-25, even on an apparently less than busy day, contrasted with the 30-minute order to delivery time of a Domino's shop. Times can run a little longer during active nights on football and hockey seasons. In our view, the wait's worth it, but if you're looking for faster and cheaper food, there are other options besides Bocce's. Finally, we'll note that the Transit location is a little spottier than the Bailey one on pizza quality, sometimes hitting only a "great" rather than "outstanding;" still, even a below-par experience here is leagues better than the best that most pizzerias can muster.

The Verdict: Some restaurants are fully worthy of the premium prices they charge over lesser competitors, and both of the Bocce's Pizzas we frequent live up to their reputations - it's hard to find a better Buffalo-style pizza, or frankly, any style of pizza save perhaps an especially good Chicago deep dish, that matches the taste and texture of a Bocce's pie. Forget the Food Network contests, the local debates over who's best, and the slight price differences; Bocce's, particularly on Bailey, offers world-class pizzas that are worthy of far greater attention than they already receive.

Bocce Club Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Dino's Bocce Club Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


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