As time passed, though, I had some ho-hum dining experiences, and in my mind there was little to distinguish Bertucci's from the big bland chains like Olive Garden. By 2000, I had stopped going.
About five years ago, I joined a group of business colleagues to have lunch at a Bertucci's in Jersey City, NJ. I was not excited by the group's choice to order pizza, but ended up delighted to find that the pie was thin, crisp, and surprisingly authentic. It's taken me some time to get back again, but on a recent snowy spring Saturday, we stopped in for a late lunch at the Concordville, PA location.
On the outside, the building looks like one of those places that time forgot. It was hard to find within a huge shopping plaza, and the building offered little visual interest, especially when compared to other Italian chains like Pizzeria Uno.
The interior decor was pleasant and clean, but likewise looked like it hadn't had a style update since the 90s. We ordered a small pizza and a pasta dish to share. The pasta was a simple spaghetti with meatballs and Bolognese sauce. For our 12" pizza, we ordered a traditional red pie with pepperoni and Andouille sausage.
|Spaghetti Bolognese with meatballs|
A quick word about the pasta. While it won't make you forget Tuscany, the spaghetti was reasonably al dente and the sauce had a good zing. The meatballs were huge and so dark that they appeared to be burned. But, in fact, I think they had been deep fried. They were spectacular. Great with the pasta, and I suspect they would be a nice pie topping too.
The pizza had a very thin crust that was reasonably sturdy when first brought to the table. With any pie, the crust is the make-or-break feature, and this one was a winner. Not life-changing, but clearly made with good ingredients and baked properly. (Our waiter had bragged earlier that there are no microwave ovens in any Bertucci's restaurant.) The crust was good enough to stand on its own.
|Excellent crust was thin and crisp|
The cheese was just OK, and represents room for improvement. On most pizzas, there is too much cheese. The modest quantity here would have been fine if the cheese had more character, but it lacked any distinctive flavor. The sauce, on the other hand, covered that deficit. It was thick and flavorful and applied generously.
If I were to give this pie a makeover, I'd reduce the sauce amount by 20% and add some aged Italian cheese post-bake, such as the grana padano used at DiFara in Brooklyn. With such a good base that the crust is providing, the toppings need to have a bigger presence.
I had wanted Italian sausage on the pie, but did not order it because it is pre-cooked. The pepperoni was standard grade, but the Andouille was a nice and spicy touch.
Our service was excellent, and our food arrived quickly. Overall, an excellent lunch even as it did not match the quality of the pizza I had in Jersey City five years ago.
Bertucci's still hangs in there with that very small set of chains that are worth visiting - Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza, California Pizza Kitchen, and Grotto Pizza. Not destination pizza, but authentic fare in a family-friendly environment.