In 1874 it was a location without a name. In 1879 it would be founded, and named for the trees that grew in the area. Cottonwood. Its beginning was slow but, as more settlers came, it grew into a productive and profitable farming settlement. By the early 1900s, residents began to build their town, and just before the 1920s, Cottonwood was thriving and dubbed the “Biggest Little Town in America.” One hundred years later, Old Town Cottonwood is thriving, still. Walking Main Street today, you can almost feel the history and hear the buzz from those that strolled before. John Wayne, Mae West, and Elvis Presley were but a few of Hollywood’s royalty that made their way into Cottonwood. This vibrantly bustling little town—nestled between the highly visited and visible Sedona and Jerome—has made a mark all its own. And while many of the original and historic buildings remain, the businesses have certainly changed. From fine dining to nostalgic diners, wine tasting rooms to taverns, antique stores, gourmet shops, and sweet boutiques, Old Town Cottonwood has come a long way from its early beginnings. And for Eric and Michelle Jurisin, their beginning came in 1993.
They left their home in the Verde Valley for a day trip to the old, mountainside mining town of Jerome. In passing the rundown Jerome Palace overlooking Main Street, they fell in love with the old building. After a year of extensive renovations, they opened their first area restaurant, The Haunted Hamburger. It wasn’t to be their last. Over the next 25 years, the Jurisin’s expanded from a single restaurant to a hospitality mini-empire—one that includes a boutique hotel and six distinctive eateries. Of those six restaurants, one sits at the end of historic Main Street, or the beginning depending upon the direction from which you came. Apart from the myriad of businesses lining Main, Pizzeria Bocce Patio Bar stands alone.
Opening in 2013, Bocce is a far cry from the boarded-up eyesore the structure was when the Jurisin’s took it over. Its striking architecture and seductive aroma will beckon you to open the door and walk inside. One might feel they’ve stepped out of Arizona and into a Chicago, Los Angeles or Manhattan hotspot. Step up to the indoor/outdoor bar and order any one of Bocce’s signature cocktails rarely found in the Verde Valley. Bocce also offers more than ten draft beers and a wine list whose scope stretches from Arizona to California to Italy. Saunter onto the stone patio and grab a comfy spot next to the breathtaking fire pit. Watch patrons play bocce ball on the court and enjoy the vibe.
Since Bocce has become so popular with locals and visitors alike, a significant expansion is underway. But let’s not rush to the future without understanding the past, and why Bocce came to be. Honoring her Italian heritage, Michelle explained, “I grew up in the family deli business on the East Coast and learned traditional Italian home cooking from my grandmother.” But as good a cook as Michelle’s grandmother was, Michelle elected to delve into her Italian ancestry further. And when the Jurisin’s decided to create a pizzeria in Old Town, Michelle traveled to the birthplace of pizza, Naples, Italy. It was there Michelle became certified in the art of pizza-making by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the official authority on Neapolitan-style pizza. “It all starts with the bread,” Michelle smiled. “And our pizza is made with Caputo flour, a gluten-free flour imported from Italy. We make the crust the Neapolitan way, no twirling.
Every crust is hand-kneaded into just the right consistency before it gets fresh toppings. Then it’s baked in a wood-burning stove, the way it’s been done in Naples for over 300 years. ”Biting into a slice of Bocce’s pizza, one is transported from this charming Arizona town and straight into the heart of Naples. Figuratively speaking, of course. But there is no denying the authenticity, flavor, and absolute perfection of a Bocce pie. The Funghi pizza, for example, takes the standard mushroom pizza to new heights of ecstasy with truffle oil, a blend of sautéed mushrooms and medley of cheeses. The Shrimp & Hot Peppers pizza, fired up with spicy Italian peppers and chimichurri sauce, is available for those with zestier palates. With pepperoni, prosciutto, soppressata, and in-house homemade sausage, the Meat Pie is a carnivore’s dream come true. However, if you don’t eat the meat, Bocce’s Not a Meat Pie is a vegetarian delight. This meatless wonder features a pesto sauce topped with eggplant, zucchini, spinach, red peppers, mushrooms, goat cheese, and Bocce hand-stretched mozzarella. Of course, you’ll still find classic favorites like the Margherita and the Carbonara, but even those benefit from Michelle’s culinary vision. If you’re feeling creative, you can craft a pie of your very own. Bocce offers nearly three dozen toppings.
Bocce has favorites like pepperoni, sausage, anchovies, and garlic. But, for the adventurous, the delectably surprising eggplant, beets, and fig chutney are also options.
Maybe this is because Michelle is as particular about her other ingredients as she is about her flour. She uses only a specific type of tomato imported from Italy while Michelle grows the basil and other herbs used on her pizzas. And if you are wondering, the answer is “Yes.” Michelle makes her homemade mozzarella, too. Her passion, not limited to the pies, pours out into the entire Bocce menu. Michelle is working continuously with her kitchen crew to come up with new menu items. The menu features a diverse and delectable selection of appetizers, panini, and salads, including the Fork & Knife that critics have lauded as “the Best Caesar in Northern Arizona.”
Despite Bocce’s current popularity, or perhaps because of it, Eric and Michelle have taken over the property next door and are in the process of renovating. Come Spring 2020, Bocce will have doubled their capacity, added a second full kitchen, and will offer street food and gelato from their outside food truck. What will these two titans of industry think of next? We can only wait and see. Saluti, Eric e Michelle!
This small-town establishment shakes the small-town feel with its urban style, open kitchen, and hustling staff. There is no denying the authenticity, flavor and Absolute perfection of a Bocce pie.
Story written by Eve Hunter Photos Provided by The Haunted Group