Was it earning 4.0 stars on yelp.com? Or earning 4.5 stars on urbanspoon.com? Or 4.5 stars on yahoo.com? Or the 4.5 stars (ranked Number 40 out of 851 restaurants) on tripadvisor.com? Yes. That was part of it. But since I placed giardinera on my Philadelphia cheesesteak at Gaglione Brothers in San Diego, I have been craving a Chicago-style Hot Roast Beef Sandwich. And Rocco’s Little Chicago in Tucson seemed to be closer than a trip to Chicago.
“Rocco's Little Chicago has taken up residence…on the north side of East Broadway. Owners Rocco and Elizabeth DiGrazia—who, not surprisingly, hail from the Windy City—are hoping their style of pizza is distinctive enough to break the pattern of failed businesses at this location, which has housed a slew of eateries over the years. If recent sampling is any indication, Rocco's is well on its way to success.
“Although the interior is not particularly atmospheric (a tattered map of the greater Chicago area and a single electric guitar comprise the decorative touches), its tables, booths and small covered patio are comfortable and inviting enough to encourage you to sit down” (Rebecca Cook, Tucson Weekly).
When we arrived early one afternoon, the indoor seating was full. Fortunately, the weather was co-operating, and we were able to find a table on the covered patio with its trellised sides bearing some form of green vine. I suspect that during the summer these vines would be covered with flowers.
The three of us briefly reviewed the lunch menu and decided that none of these choices fit the bill.
On any other occasion, the U505 sandwich with proscuitto, turkey, pepperoni, mozzarella, tomatoes, red onions, olives, and lettuce might have been an interesting choice. But we wanted the Classic Italian Beef described on the menu as “soaked in au jus and spiced with giardinera relish.” This was described by Corey D. on yelp.com:
“…Rocco's has THE BEST Italian Beef I've found in Tucson. It's the closest to the real deal for me, real being what I grew up with in Chicago…It's tender, juicy, full of flavor…The bread is little overwhelming in that the bread to meat ratio is a little off…”
So Chuck and I decided to share a sandwich. Yes, Cory, the meat to roll ratio was off. The roll was a little too soft (although it didn’t fall apart when dipped in the au jus), and there was just too much of it. Second, the overall taste suffered from an excess of dry oregano that gave the meat a somewhat bitter flavor. Third, this was one of those food items that tasted great while eating the first half, but soon became way too much—especially too much and too spicy giardinera. The vinegary giardinera started to overwhelm everything.
Lucky for us, we didn’t stop with ordering one shared sandwich. What were we to do when we read on the menu “the classic thin pizza is crispy and cut in squares?” Again quoting Rebecca Cook at Tucson Weekly: “…The thin crust may look like your average pizza, but mark my words, Rocco's version is anything but. This buttery crust is delightfully crispy and chewy at the same time. The sauce is truly remarkable, containing puréed bits of tomato, minced garlic and a subtle infusion of herbs that never stampede the palate. A good quantity of melted mozzarella covers the whole pie, and the toppings are first-rate.”
I so wish Chuck liked mushrooms so that we could have ordered the Fungus Humongous with a grilled mixture of portabella and white mushroom with onions and garlic. Instead, we stuck with the basics and chose the large thin crust cheese (light on the cheese) and sausage.
Just as the VPN-style pizza we had at Vero Amore was disappointingly bad, this was surprisingly great. The crust was just as Rebecca Cook promised and lay somewhere between the very crisp (and sometimes flavorless) “cracker” style and the classic New York (foldable) style. It had flavor without weight. The sauce had small chunks of tomato and had been prudently applied (too much sauce is almost—but not quite—as bad as too much cheese). And the sausage was applied in chunks and not slices. It may just be me, but I think that sliced sausage in pizza tends to become overly dry.
Now if you are wondering how we managed to eat a large sandwich and a large pizza—we didn’t. But I consider cold pizza to be the “breakfast of champions” and was happy to finish the pizza over the course of the next two mornings.
We’re not going to give Rocco’s an overall rating. The Italian Roast Beef Sandwich doesn’t earn more than 2.5 Addies, but the pizza—that’s 4.5 Addies.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.