BETTER PLATE THAN NEVER: Tyler Raynes shows off the Diavola pizza, which comes out of the custom oven at Bocca Lupo in about 90 seconds. Photograph by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly
Jenneke De Vries’ husband takes pizza very seriously. He was born in Naples to Dutch parents, and although he left Italy when he was still a young boy, he returned frequently to eat the city’s famed wood-fired bread creation.
“He pretty much grew up on the pizza margarita,” she says. “He knows what he’s talking about.”
Years later, living in Silicon Valley and working as a software engineer, he built a dome oven in his backyard so he could create thin-crust pizzas of his own. His pies were apparently so good that friends and family urged him to open a restaurant and give his Neapolitan-style pizzas a wider audience.
So that’s what he and de Vries did, snatching up a spot in San Jose’s new San Pedro Square Market. The couple’s pizzeria was one of the first businesses to open in the downtown marketplace.
“A chance of a lifetime,” de Vries called it.
He takes pizza so seriously he’s not willing to reveal his name. He’s still got his day job, because he doesn’t want to rock the boat while his 6-month-old pizza venture gets off the ground. So his pizza will have to speak for itself. And it does.
The nameless pizziaolo traveled to his native home to spend some time in the kitchen of Don Salvatore, a celebrated pizza restaurant in Naples. When his countrymen learned what he was up to, they said to him, “bocca lupo,” an Italian phase for “break a leg” that translates literally as “in the wolf’s mouth”—not any stranger than “break a leg” really. When it came time to name the new restaurant, the phrase received high marks from the de Vries’ children, so it stuck.
The menu at Pizza Bocca Lupo is simple: a half-dozen pizzas, a few salads and a couple of desserts.
The salads are simple but good. The insalata ($4.99) is a haystack of arugula tossed with sliced pear and Gorgonzola cheese dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The caprese ($6.99) is good because of the buffalo milk mozzarella and fresh basin, but out-of-season tomatoes don’t do much for it.
While San Pedro Square Market is bright and open, the seating inside feels a bit like a mall food court. It’s far better to enjoy your pizza outside in the sun in the appealing courtyard opposite the Peralta Adobe.
The pizzas are beautiful. They come out of a glass-tiled oven that the pizza man had custom made in Italy. The oven is fired with almond wood and cranks up to a blistering 900 degrees.
The pizzas come out in 90 seconds or so, a higher-quality kind of fast food. They’re made with the staples of Neapolitan pizza—00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo milk mozzarella (it costs a bit more than the cow’s milk mozzarella, but with double the butterfat it’s worth it), a sprinkling of basil.
My margarita pizza ($8.99) was textbook perfect with a well-blistered, rounded crust with a paper-thin interior that barely supported the tomatoes and cheese. Neapolitan pizza is supposed to be a light meal, not a gut-busting experience, and this pizza left me wanting one more slice.
While the abundance of toppings would disqualify it as true Neapolitan-style pizza, Joe’s Special was just as good ($12.99); it was made with crushed tomatoes, extra mozzarella, basil sausage, mushrooms and extra-virgin olive oil. The pizza is designated after a customer named Joe, who touted the creation on Facebook. In a gesture of customer appreciation, Bocca Lupo officially named the pizza after him, a nice gesture from a man who wishes to remain nameless.
Pizza Bocca Lupo
87 N. San Pedro St., San Jose