Chef Justin Turner has started to put his stamp on Generation Park. In his role as Director of Culinary Hospitality for Gastropub Productions, a company created to develop restaurants for the 4,200-acre mixed-use development near Lake Houston, Chopped champion Turner has opened two new restaurants in the spaces previously occupied by Wholesome Kitchen and Wholesome Pies.
They are Bocca Italian Kitchen, a chef-driven, Italian-American restaurant, and Lupo Pizzeria, a New York-style pizzeria with a wood-burning oven; in Italian In bocca al lupo means "stepping into the wolf’s mouth," a phrase for summoning courage. Both restaurants began a quiet soft opening in late December and will be open full time beginning January 15.
Needless to say, they’re a big change from Turner’s former role as the founder of Bernie’s Burger Bus, but the chef tells CultureMap he’s excited about the new challenge.
“I’m going to keep the same food philosophy,” Turner says. “I’m going to make it all from scratch when I can. I’m going to buy as local as I can.”
Available as both whole pies and by-the-slice, Lupo’s pizzas run the gamut from traditional favorites like a meat lovers (the Vinny, topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, sopressata and capicola) to an East Coast-style clam pie that’s also topped with roasted garlic. Serving slices should make the restaurant a convenient lunch option for area office workers, Turner adds.
“The space to me dictated Italian food,” Turner says. “If I’m going to put all these beautiful toppings on pizza, I’ve got stuff for pasta, salads, and entrees.”
Bocca’s expansive menu starts with a series of small plates. Meatballs are based on a recipe handed down from his wife’s family, and the octopus comes chicken-fried. Other options include arancini served with tomato sauce, “ham and cheese” in the form of prosciutto and burrata, and calamari. Salads include a classic Caesar as well as arugula and goat cheese with apples and toasted macadamia nuts.
Turner is purchasing fresh pastas from BOH Pasta, chef Ben McPherson’s restaurant in Bravery Chef Hall. Diners will find familiar options like spaghetti and meatballs and linguine alfredo alongside a Thai-inspired pasta with coconut-basil cream and jumbo lump crab.
Entree options start with different chicken preparations such as marsala, parmigiana, and piccata. Osso bucco is served with cheesy polenta, and the pork dish offers both seared tenderloin and crispy pork belly. Prices start at around $20, topping out at $32 for filet mignon.
While both Lupo and Bocca will keep Turner plenty busy for the next few months, he’s already planning for Las Eva’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant that will open across the street from Bocca this summer. That restaurant’s signature feature will be housemade masa that uses corn that’s ground on site before going through the traditional nixtamalization process. In addition to tortillas, Turner says he wants to make dishes such as sopes and arepas that honor the heritage of his Mexican and South American cooks.
Lupo and Bocca are open for both dine-in and to-go for both lunch and dinner. Bocca will add weekend brunch service with dishes such as a frittata, a breakfast sandwich, and French toast, in the coming weeks.