Rocky Rococo Is The Paragon Of Pan-Style Pizza

This Wisconsin pizza chain offers the chance to relive your 1990s pizza party memories.

Look, Pizza Hut, I like you. And Jet's, we've had some good times. But when it comes to pizza chains, nobody does pan-style like Rocky Rococo.

Since the 1974 opening of its first location in Madison, Wisconsin, Rocky's has been serving some of the finest pies in the Midwest. At its height, the company operated some 120 stores, reaching as far as Florida, Colorado, and Kentucky.

But that was in 1986. And though the pizza remains arguably the best in its class, time has not been kind to Rocky Rococo. A series of crises took a toll on the franchise, until (according to Wikipedia) just 40 locations remained as of 2020, most operating within its native state.

I witnessed this downfall firsthand. Despite an unfortunate incident in which a piece of lava-hot pizza landed cheese side down in my lap, their pan-style was my childhood favorite. When my local venue shut its doors, I was heartbroken. But years later, when a new strip mall sprang up in the former pizzeria's location, a brand new Rocky's moved in.

What makes Rocky Rococo’s pizza so special?

For me, it's the sauce and the crust that set Rocky Rococo pizza apart. The sauce can be found in grocery stores throughout the Midwest, but if you want the full experience, you'll have to head to a franchise.

Advertisement

"In a process that takes over 17 hours," reads the company's website, "Rocky's dough is made fresh daily in each of his restaurants. Rocky's dough goes through four separate rising processes – a time-consuming process – that produces the sweet, thick crust that is uniquely Rocky Rococo. Mixed fresh each day, never frozen, rolled into dough balls and pressed into the pan by hand, Rocky's dough is labor intensive, but a labor of love."

Stretchy, melted mozzarella, a vibrant red tomato sauce, and a chewy crust with that perfect burned-black edge on its corners—a Rocky's pizza is like a gooey key to my heart. And just look at that sausage. Those chunks of pork and fennel are nearly the size of your last thumb joint, and they taste a hell of a lot better.

Advertisement

But the best part isn't the body of the slice, or even the crust itself—it's the thin channel between. Liquid-hot sauce gathers in this narrow trench and, if you can bring yourself to wait until it cools, provides one of the richest, most satisfying bites of pizza you'll ever have.

The signature pan-style can be ordered either by the pie or, if you're stopping in for lunch, in an assortment of single slices. Thin crust and Chicago-style are also available, and some locations used to carry a whole wheat crust that was arguably better than the original.

The Rocky Rococo dining experience

If you've been to a Rocky's location anytime in the last, say, thirty years, the experience today is pretty much the same. Many of the franchises have been in operation that long, and even the new ones have a distinctive mid-'90s feel in the venue and décor.

Advertisement

Red, white, and green dominate the palette, with posters lining the walls. Most of these are of a comic bent, featuring the namesake mascot. My favorite at the local Rocky's depicts the (fictional) man himself, complete with bib and fork, eating a piece of pizza straight from the floor and touting the cleanliness of his restaurants.

But hey, if you'd rather eat off your own floor, or say that of your car, many Rocky Rococo locations are equipped with a drive-thru window. However, ordering via drive-thru will lead you to miss a glimpse of a bygone artifact:

That's right, I buried the lead: Rocky Rococo has a functioning salad bar. These have become something of a rarity in the post-COVID world, at least in the purview of fast food. And on the hot side of the menu, you can find several other staples of Italian-American fast casual: Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti and Meatballs, breadsticks with marinara sauce.

Advertisement

But the star of this chain is the pizza. As someone who prefers to make his own pan-style at home, Rocky's is one of the few franchises I'll go out of my way to patronize. I don't care if the dining room hasn't been updated since before the advent of the Super Nintendo. That wonderful dough and vibrant sauce are the stuff that corner-piece dreams are made of.

 

Recommended

Advertisement