Schools are starting back up again across the Valley, and in two weeks, ASU's fall classes will begin. Downtown Tempe is soon to become a rushed blur of students as they move in, settle down, and get ready to hit the books. Until winter break brings some relief, study groups will be meetings at all hours of the day. What better fuel for a late-night cram session is there than a big helping of sugar?
Tempe has the expected college hangouts: pubs like Rula Bula, breweries like Four Peaks, cheap eats like Haji-Baba, and casual dives like Casey Moore's. In the mix is a somewhat unexpected wine bar: La Bocca. Sure, it's a pizzeria -- but not the darkly lit pizza place found on most college campuses serving slices with soggy crust and pools of grease in the cheese. Instead, La Bocca serves house-made sangria, bruschetta with roasted beets and goat cheese drizzled with honey, and hand-tossed pizzas topped with Schreiner's sausage, fresh herbs, and truffle oil. If you want something on campus that's more satisfying than the Snickers bar out of the vending machine, La Bocca could be just the place.
One good note about La Bocca's dessert selection is the use of Sweet Republic ice cream. Based in Scottsdale with one retail store and one roaming truck, Sweet Republic makes some outstanding sweet stuff. If a restaurant doesn't have the means to make their own ice cream, going with a top local contender is certainly an excellent choice. The ice cream can be ordered alone or paired with a number of house-made desserts, including a made-to-order chocolate chip cookie served in a miniature cast iron skillet.
The ice cream, however, is the best part. At the server's suggestion, we topped our cookie with espresso ice cream. Vanilla bean and mint chip would have been good choices too, but the espresso makes the flavor a little more interesting, and if a long night is ahead, the coffee might give you a little extra boost -- even if it is a placebo effect (then again, chocolate has trace amounts of caffeine too, so who's to say?).
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The chocolate chip cookie, fresh out of the oven, looks pretty amazing in its skillet. The top is nicely browned, and the dough has risen with bubbles evident below the surface. But as amazing as a gooey, warm cookie is, the timing has to be just right. By its outward appearance, it looks like the cookie was removed from the oven on time, or at least close to, but it was served several minutes too soon, not given any time to cool off. The small scoop of ice cream melted into the cookie within a couple of minutes, and the cookie itself was much too doughy, only baked through on the very top. No matter how hard it is to resist, no cookie should be eaten immediately after being removed from the oven; freshly baked cookies can't even be transferred to a cooling rack for two or three minutes.
Otherwise, the cookie is pretty standard, reminiscent of the ubiquitous Nestle Tollhouse recipe printed on packages of chocolate chips. It's quite rich and therefore shouldn't be ordered unless you're feeling really serious about digging into some dessert. No matter its timing flaws, college kids will probably be pretty thrilled with this guilty pleasure, especially as a way to avoid writing the first term paper of the semester or to add to the freshman 15 after a night of drinking (totally legal, of course).