Famed chef and Chopped Champion Justin Turner recently opened two Italian concept restaurants in Houston’s Generation Park.
Bernie’s Burger Bus, the food-truck-turned-Houston-phenomenon closed its doors late last year due to COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty. The award-winning chef, Justin Turner, closed his restaurants, laid-off employees but, luckily for us, he kept cooking. Pivoting from hamburger-focused fare to pizza and Italian comfort food, Turner joined the newly minted Gastropub Productions as their Director of Hospitality.
The first two concepts from the hospitality group opened in mid-January in Redemption Square, a mixed-use development in Generation Park near Lake Houston. Bocca Italian Kitchen is a chef-driven seasonal concept kitchen that focuses on Italian food with an American flair. Bocca’s menu is full of house-made sauces and the expert seasoning that made Turner a Houston favorite and a Food Network “Chopped” champion. He conveys the legacies he honed at Bernie’s to create a fresh take on Bocca’s classic favorites.
“A lot of the recipes come from my wife’s family, specifically her grandmother. She is Italian, and she grew up eating this way,” says Chef Turner. “I feel fortunate that I get to turn them into something new for Bocca.”
Everything at Bocca Italian Kitchen is made fresh daily, and the menu has more than a few standouts. For starters, the Calamari with Calabrian Chili Aioli is delicious. Use some of the freshly baked bread (from Bread Man Baking Co.) to soak up all the aioli – it is so good you won’t want any of it to go to waste. Then move on to the Carbonara and Chicken Parmigiana, both are hearty entrees with delectable flavors.
In addition to Bocca Italian Kitchen, Turner also launched Lupo Pizzeria, his take on a traditional American pizzeria serving New York-style pizza. The pies are available for dine-in, take-out, or to-go and are made from locally sourced fresh ingredients. In addition to their standard pizza menu, Lupo offers different off-the-menu specialty pies each day.
Lupo and Bocca are connected, but completely different dining experiences. While Bocca offers an elevated dining experience, Lupo is a casual pizzeria with a relaxed environment.
“We’re excited to open our doors officially and welcome the community to Bocca and Lupo. Both concepts pay homage to Italian American favorites, and I’m thrilled to bring amazing dishes and two unique culinary experiences to Redemption Square,” says Turner. “These two concepts are just the start of the amazing culinary and hospitality ecosystem Gastropub Productions is creating.”
As the old saying goes, “when one door closes, another door opens,” and in this case, we are glad doors have continued to open for Turner. Bocca and Lupo are just the start of what he has in store for Houston in the months to come, and we are here for it.
Cover photo courtesy Marco Torres
Gabi De la Rosa lives in Houston with her husband and three children. Visit her on Instagram @gabioftheroses_htx