Note: This is part two of a series highlighting restaurants that received awards from Michelin during its first time rating Tampa in 2022.
The perfect pasta does exist and you’ll find it at Rocca in Tampa Heights. Handmade by executive chef and partner Bryce Bonsack, the gamut of traditional pastas are innovatively served in an elegant setting, as well as savory meat and fish dishes — recognized by none other than Michelin.
The famed French publication awarded Rocca with a Bib Gourmand in June after completing its first reviews in Tampa. Rocca was one of three restaurants in the city to receive the award for good quality, good value cooking. (See Tampa’s other Michelin-recognized restaurants here.)
Michelin’s writeup on Rocca reads in part, “Naturally, there’s an assortment of pastas, skillfully made in house, which showcase classic flavors and scrupulous technique, like supple tagliolini with beef ragù and 30-month-aged Parmigiano.”
Bonsack always knew he wanted to be a chef and restaurateur. Born in West Berlin, Germany, where his father served in the U.S. Army, he grew up in Tampa. After grade school, Bonsack attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, while interning at two-Michelin-starred Corton. Upon graduation, he worked at Blanca and was thrilled to contribute to the receipt of its second Michelin star.
“Italian is just in my heart and taste buds,” shares Bonsack, who is not Italian, but became infatuated with its food.
Bonsack felt Italy beckoning, so he embarked on a culinary pilgrimage for about a year. His most formative stop was in Piedmont living with the Rocca family, who owned a century-old restaurant and taught him their ways. He affectionately named his first Tampa restaurant after them in 2019.
“Pasta spoke to me the most then – and still today,” he recalls. “It’s simple perfection.”
At pasta-focused Rocca, Bonsack is insistent about making all of the food in-house, including the bread and gelato. Fresh mozzarella pulled tableside and the burnt cheesecake are also wildly popular. A wine room houses an extensive selection. Bonsack also strives to locally source ingredients, including edible flowers and herbs from his mother’s nearby garden.
Over the years, Bonsack has enhanced the menu with more luxury options, including caviar service and dry-aged duck — a frequent sellout. (Call ahead to reserve a duck.) He also recently expanded the restaurant’s footprint by bringing the main dining room to 155 seats and adding a private dining room with its own kitchen.
While reservations at Rocca were already challenging to snag, Bonsack noted a boost in interest after winning the Bib Gourmand. Michelin’s presence in Tampa also has ignited a hunger in Bonsack.
“We’re thankful that we’re on Michelin’s radar and got some distinction, but we’re pushing for a star,” the pasta master declares. “We won’t be happy until we can bring one home to Tampa.”
Check out part one of our series highlighting restaurants recognized by Michelin: Ichicoro Ramen.