Chain Reaction: Round Table Pizza
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.
Pizza like the stuff at Round Table may serve as a Rorschach test for the kind of eater you are. There will be those that look at this mass-produced pizza and immediately dismiss it. There will be those that scan the pictures in this review and think that any pie piled that high with nitrate-y meat simply has to be delicious. Others will straddle the fence and invoke the old even-when-it's-bad-it's-good line. Point is, most of you likely don't need me to tell you what to think about this pizza. How's that for a cop out?
Though it was the 14th largest pizza chain in the US as of 2010, many of you may not have any firsthand knowledge of Round Table. That's because all of its 500-plus locations sit in the Western half of the country, largely in California, Washington, and Oregon. (There are also two in Dubai, but I'm not sure we have much of a Slice readership on that side of the world.) The chain makes some vague gestures at invoking its namesake Knights of the Round Table, with one pie named after King Arthur, and another after Guinevere. But, mostly, I'd describe Round Table as a pretty generic pizza chain.
Based on feedback from the lady behind the register, it seems clear that many people go to Round Table to ensure that they can have as many toppings on their pizza as possible. She identified the King Arthur's Supreme as the most popular pie at that particular location, and we dutifully tried it, finding ourselves confronted with pepperoni, and sausage, and salami, and linguica, and mushrooms, and green peppers, and onions, and olives, and... holy crap, that's a lot of toppings! They'll even add shrimp and anchovies to this pie at certain locations if you request it.
Even with many of these toppings tumbling off the pie each time one picked up a slice, the sheer quantity could be a bit overwhelming. I didn't much like the look of Round Table's sausage, which appeared as if it had been extruded through a tube and then chopped up into the greyish wads that sat atop the pie. But that sausage had some spice to it, as did all the other meat on this pie. Nothing subtle here, except maybe some contrasting bitter flavor from the green pepper, but hard to argue that this pizza was bland.
Recently, televisions in the Bay Area have been assaulting us with the idea that we all need to try Round Table's Triple Play Pepperoni pizza. The pitch has been that the pie features not one, not two, but three different types of pepperoni. Mostly, this means that the meat comes in three different sizes:
Many of the smaller discs of pepperoni sat atop the larger slices of meat. Had this simply increased the chances that they would curl up into crisp pepperoni cups, all the better. But several had cooked so far as to turn from bright red to a crunchy brown, magnifying their salty, hot doggy qualities, and eventually leaving us feeling as if we wanted to scrape the over-stimulated taste buds from the surface of our tongues. Still, if sheer quantity of pepperoni flavor is the goal, I suppose this pie delivers.
Round Table promises its customers that their dough gets "rolled" fresh every day. They obviously mean this to reassure you that pies don't come frozen, and I found myself running through every possible scheme by which they might finesse this particular slogan. But, actually, as a conversation with the manager—and a glimpse of a Hobart mixer working double-time at the back of the kitchen—proved, they mean this quite literally. Each Round Table location gets regular shipments of pre-combined dry dough ingredients, to which they add water before mixing it in-house and then giving it a 12-hour cold rise.
For Round Table's traditional pies, the dough then gets run through a sheeter and trimmed to size, before taking a conveyor belt trip through a gas oven.
The resulting crust didn't particularly stand out. It didn't offer much flavor, though it could be hard to tell because even around the edges, much of the crust had been covered with shreds of Round Table's cheddar-provolone-mozzarella blend. It's thin, and crisp enough that slices don't droop, and that's about it. But then, the cheese and Round Table's heavily herbed tomato sauce didn't come to the forefront of these pies either—it's hard for anything to stand up to all those toppings.
On the spectrum of pizza that I'm asked to eat for Slice, I'd most certainly place Round Table near the very bottom of the pile. So, if it wasn't clear before, I guess that reveals the type of pizza eater that I am. But the expectation at a Round Table isn't the same as at some of those other places, and I'll admit that even as I sniffed my pizza-snob nose at these pies, I also ate several slices more than was strictly necessary for me to be able to write this review.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on as @pizzakover.