"Hi, welcome to Bertucci's. My name is Johnny, and I'll be your server today." When I heard that, I knew I had wandered into a different kind of pizza chain. The state of the art Wood Stone brick oven I was staring at across from our table was another giveaway. It's fueled by gas, though there are other Bertucci's locations with wood-burning ovens. The first Bertucci's opened in 1981 in Somerville, Massachusetts. At one point, Bertucci's had even received certification from the VPN. These days its membership has been suspended because as VPN America founder Peppe Miele explained, "They went around me to Italy for their certification. We can't allow that."
Undeterred by their American VPN suspension, Bertucci's has persevered, and after a few missteps caused by too rapid expansion, has positioned itself as a low-priced, more authentic alternative to Olive Garden.
I of course had no interest in anything on the very large menu other than pizza. We ordered a large Margherita with sausage on half. My man Johnny brought over some warm rolls and a plate of olive oil with fresh rosemary, oregano, and red pepper flakes floating in it. The rolls tasted like Tuscan brown-and-serve rolls, but they were warm and actually quite satisfying once dipped in the flavored olive oil. Our complimentary salad tasted like it was dressed with a bad, bottled "Eye-talian" dressing.
The pizza arrived at the table five minutes later. I grabbed a piece of the plain half and took a bite. The yeasty crust was pretty darn good. It had a decent lip and was nicely charred. I ripped off an edge of the crust and put it in my mouth. It wasn't world-class pizza crust, but it was certainly way better than any chain pizza I had tasted. The dots of white cheese on the pizza were obviously fresh mozzarella, a pleasant surprise. The sauce was a deep red. It looked more like a cooked pasta sauce and, although it tasted OK, there was way too much of it on the pizza. The oddly seasoned sausage came atop the pizza in large pelletlike chunks that had no discernible pork or fennel flavor. The next time I go to a Bertucci's, I would order a plain Margherita, easy on the sauce.
The pizza at Bertucci's is good enough to give me hope for the future of chain pizza. It's not the pizza of my dreams, but it's certainly way better than Domino's, Little Caesar's, Pizza Hut, or Papa John's. In fact, it's one small step for pizza-kind.
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