Taste-Bud Boredom

Rockin' Pizza offers cool memorabilia and good service, but where's the spice?

Garrett and I have started making what we call "healthy pizzas" at home. We both love a good pizza pie--who doesn't?--but hate the fact that they can be awfully unhealthy. While I expected our efforts to result in inferior pizzas, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a pizza with whole-wheat dough (with extra fiber added), the right turkey sausage and turkey pepperoni, and a good low-fat cheese can actually be just as fantastic as a full-calorie pizza.

However, our dabblings have had an unfortunate side effect: Whenever I eat pizza from a restaurant, I am extra picky. I figure that if I can make a delicious pie while cutting a few modest corners, then, dammit, a pizzeria pie with those figurative corners intact should be downright dynamite.

Keep that in mind while I tell you about Rockin' Pizza.

Rockin' Pizza is a small, rectangular, strip-mall joint that I really, really want to like. For one thing, it's one of the few places that will deliver to the southcentral bureau (Hey, midtown pizzerias: The world doesn't end at 22nd Street, you bastards!), and I appreciate the music-themed décor. On a recent weeknight visit, while Garrett and I waited for our pizzas, we checked out the Chrome 44 and Poison memorabilia on the otherwise plain-white wall next to our table, the Michael Bruce guitar affixed to the ceiling, etc. You could gawk at all of this stuff for hours. I also liked the fact that the people who work there don't seem to take themselves too seriously (witness the "Danger: Men Cooking" sign) and are unafraid of, say, unique facial piercings.

But then, well, there's the food: Every single bite I've eaten from Rockin' Pizza was OK. Nothing better, nothing worse, just decidedly OK.

The menu promises: "We proudly serve the finest in authentic New York Italian dinners, pizza and sandwiches." This was exciting, especially to Garrett--he loves New York-style pizza--and we were encouraged when informed that all of the pizza toppings were fresh, except for the canned mushrooms. That's pretty much New York pizza for you. And when one of the guys working there informed Garrett that Rockin' Pizza's pies were the best he'd eaten since he left the East Coast, we were wildly optimistic.

Our pizzas--an 18-inch large mushroom pizza (normally $14.99, on special for $11.99) for Garrett, and a 14-inch pub pizza (pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, black olives, bell peppers and onions), with extra sauce and without bell peppers, for me ($15)--were brought to our table promptly. The ingredients were, as advertised, fresh, save the canned mushrooms. And the taste ... was only OK.

A little spice here and there--be it in the sauce, or in the sausage, or even in a good, unique cheese--can make or break a pizza. And that's what all of Rockin' Pizza's food was lacking. The sauce was bland, as was the thin-cut sausage. We ate a few pieces of each pie and took the rest home.

About a week later, we decided to order a dinner for delivery. In addition to pizzas, Rockin' Pizza offers various Italian dinners (manicotti, ziti, stuffed shells, sausage and peppers, etc.) and sandwiches both hot and cold. Garrett and I decided to essentially repeat my pizza experience--a 14-inch pie with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, black olives and extra sauce (no onions this time, $15)--and supplement it with orders of lasagna ($9.99) and chicken parmesan ($9.99). The guy who took my phone order said the food would show up in 35-40 minutes; 29 minutes later, the doorbell rang.

After unloading all the healthy portions of food, we began our meal with the salads that came with the two dinners. They were fine--a wedge of tomato, cucumber slices and julienne carrot with iceberg lettuce and red cabbage--and complemented by our dressing of choice, a decent Italian. We then moved on to the pizza, which was pretty much the same as it was during our initial visit.

Then came the dinners. The lasagna was cooked to perfection, in my book; however, the flavor was missing. The sauce, the "spiced beef," the Italian sausage--it was all rather bland. This left the lasagna's fate resting on the cheese, and while parmesan, mozzarella and ricotta were all present, none of them had enough flavor to carry the dish.

And the chicken parmesan? Please forgive the broken-record imitation, but the breading on the chicken was flavorless, and the red sauce covering the meat, cheese and accompanying spaghetti was very ho-hum.

Rockin' Pizza is some handfuls of spice away from culinary success. More flavorful sauces and meats, combined with some more nuanced cheese blends, would make all the difference in the world to their food. But as it stands now, I can't really recommend Rockin' Pizza, unless you're in the mood for something that's just OK--or you're marooned somewhere just south of 22nd Street and can't get anyone else to deliver.

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