Chain Reaction: Bertucci's Roman Runaround
While we think mom-and-pop shops make the best pizza in the nation, we'd be remiss if we didn't keep abreast of what the chains are up to. Suit up, it's time for another Chain Reaction, folks.
For those of you that aren't familiar with Bertucci's, it's a Massachusetts based brick oven pizza chain with stores concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Ed had some words on them Pizza: A Slice of Heaven (that you can read here), including the statement that with regard to chains, they represent "one small step for pizza kind." I would go so far as to say that I would choose Bertucci's pizza over any other pizza outfit that has more than 20 stores. They make a respectable pie. I've even been known to purchase their dough and use it in a pinch at home (shhh).
When I got wind of their new Roman style pizza, I started to think maybe as Scott Wiener suggested there really is a Roman pizza invasion happening in America. In my estimation it seemed early for the chains to be jumping on the bandwagon, but if any chain was going to do it, I was glad that it was Bertucci's.
Will Gordon is now handling the chain beat, but I was really excited to know what this pizza was all about, so I just went for it (sorry, Will). Don't worry, I think I got my punishment in the form of "the runaround".
Before going to chain places for specials it's always a good idea to check to make sure that the local outpost is serving the newest addition to the menu. I placed a call to the location closest to me in Cambridge. The conversation went something like this:
Them: Hi, this Bertucci's how may I help you?
Me: Oh, yeah, hey. I was just wondering if you all are serving the new Roman pizza at your location.
Them: We do have the Roman pizza, but it is a take-out only item.
Me: Um, ok. That's weird. Well, what if I order it to take-out and then want to eat it there?
Them: Yeah, sorry. It's take-out only. We're running it as a take-out special. You get one Roman pizza and then a large cheese for five dollars extra.
Me: Ok, so can I just get a Roman to eat there, without the extra pizza?
Them: No, sorry it's just for carry out.
Me: Ok, well, uh, thanks.
So that seemed weird, right? I decide to check the website.
See there in the bold it says, "Buy any Roman style pizza and get a large cheese for only $5. Carry out only." To me that reads that the special is carry out only, but not the pizza. What good does it do to have a carry out only pizza? That's silly. Bertucci's is a sit down place. Is the Roman so delicious that people will sit too long eating it? (By the way, I really wanted to eat in because I have a huge soft spot for their rolls and the cheap Italian dressing they use on their bottomless salad which are complimentary at lunch.) Without any satisfying logic to backup the take-out claim, I think it's worth placing a call to a second Cambridge location.
Them: This is Bertucci's.
Me: Hi, do you have the Roman pizza?
Them: Yes, we do.
Me: Can I eat it in the dining room?
Them: Let me ask my general manager.
Them: It's take-out only because we don't have big enough trays to serve it on in the restaurant.
Me: Oooh. Ok. Well, thanks anyway.
Mystery sort of solved. It makes sense that they may not have giant pizza trays for the new pizza product, kinda. An oversight at corporate headquarters, perhaps, but still not totally adding up. Could they be Roman pizza al metro? Like the Subway multi- foot long party subs they simply can't fit at a table? Ok, there is one more Bertucci's close by, maybe I'll get some real answers.
Them: Hello, Bertucci's.
Me: Hey, so do you guys have that new Roman pizza.
Them: Yes we do.
Me: And, I know this sounds a little weird, but can I eat it in the dining room?
Me: I'm just asking because I called another location and they said it was a take-out special. I just wanted to check.
Them: I don't know why they would say that. If they don't want your business, we do.
Me: Ok, great. Thanks so much.
So this location clearly had something figured out the other two didn't... Maybe they had received specially sized trays, or figured they could turn a sheet pan upside down, or maybe overlapping trays would do the job? It's not my policy to ask more questions once I get the answer I want, but I was ready to find out.
Settling in at the table, menus in hand, it is quickly evident that there is a glaring omission from the menu—no Roman pizza anywhere! Lots of "Happy 30th Birthday, Bertucci's!" but not one mention of the new pies. After much back-and-forth ( I'll spare you the play-by-play), lots of confusion on all sides, and some topping debate, the much pursued pie, large and square cut, finally arrived!
And how did it fit on the tray? Why, just fine. With some space to spare, even. See:
Size doesn't explain it. And the theory about it being so amazingly delicious that we would spend hours lingering over the pie? Not a chance. It was actually a lot like the regular pizza. So much so that I flagged down the GM looking fella and asked if it was the same dough. YEP. Really, Bertucci's? You can't just stretch out the same dough and call it Roman pizza! For one thing, stretching your dough out that much makes it denser and harder to chew. (Is this going to be like the Tuscan trend where chain restaurants get to add oregano and Parmesan to any old dish and call it Tuscan? Please, NO.)
Their pizza doesn't fall into the pizza al metro Roman category, nor is it like these Roman pies that Nick Solares had when recently in Rome. The Bertucci's Roman seems to mean more toppings, and in the case of the sausage and pepperoni, different layering (the pepperoni was layered beneath the cheese). The sauce is the same coarsely chopped plum tomato sauce that appears on the regular pizzas. In terms of crust thickness, in places it seemed like the Roman pizza was distinguished by uniformity.
There it almost looks like a the thickness of pizza bianca. But then in other parts of the pizza, the cross-section revealed a pie that closely resembled your typical thin crusted pie with a puffy rise to the rim:
Since, as I stated, I like Bertucci's, and since the Roman was basically like their other pizzas only slightly larger and cut differently, I can't say it was bad. It just wasn't Roman. And while the take-away special of $18 for the oversized Roman and $5 extra for a large cheese makes sense for feeding a crowd at a party, the office, or after playing a team sport, just the Roman wasn't worth all the runaround it took to get to eat inside Bertucci's doors. And I still don't understand why they want that pizza to be carry out only! If this is Bertucci's idea of joining in the Roman invasion, they still have a lot to learn about the pizza style and successful tactics.