On a cold November evening, I trudged through snow and biting wind to review a sausage pizza at the Regent Street Rocky Rococo’s.
Rocky Rococo’s is a regional pizza chain headquartered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Founded in Madison nearly 50 years ago by a pair of college students, Rocky Rococo’s peaked at 120 locations in 1986, but has since receded to 40 restaurants.
The fictional namesake of the brand is an aggressively Italian pizza purveyor who wears a white suit and fedora and was portrayed by Madison comic actor Jim Pederson until his death in 2016.
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I love Rocky Rococo’s — not necessarily for the pizza, but primarily for the mythos surrounding the brand. In an era where fast food companies have long discarded their mascots, Rocky Rococo continues to honor their eponymous founder. Burger King and the extended Ronald McDonald Universe have been swept into the dustbin of history, and Colonel Sanders is kept on life-support only to have the character trotted out by a rotating cast of actors. Amidst it all, Rocky Rococo soldiers on.
The Rocky Rococo lore is meticulously fleshed out. According to the company’s official website, “Mr. Rocky Rococo was born in 1948 in Newark, N.J., the son of Lillian ‘Mama’ Rococo and Albert ‘Night Breeze’ Rococo.”
Rocky’s father, Night Breeze, abandoned his family soon after baby Rocky was born, leaving Mama Rococo to raise their child only with the help of her brother-in-law Uncle Sal. In Rocky’s early years, he floated through odd jobs before landing in the pizza industry and opening his first restaurant in 1974.
Details of Rocky’s personal life are not easily located, but there is a paragraph on the website that says he carried on an illicit love affair with a subordinate named Bess Quality for 25 years until they were discovered in 1999.
I frequently engage with the Rocky Rococo’s brand on social media platforms, and so much so on Facebook that I was awarded Top Commenter status at one point a few months ago.
Seeking to capitalize on this, I began a correspondence with the company, which ended with them graciously mailing me a coupon for a free large pizza (face value ~$17). With this in hand, I arrived at Rocky Rococo’s at around 7 p.m. that night.
The cashier assured me that my coupon entitled me to as many toppings as I desired, and while Rocky Rococo’s has an impressive array of options including andouille and feta, I decided to play it safe with Italian sausage, onions, peppers and olives.
Rocky’s signature offering is a square-shaped pan-style slice, with a thick, doughy crust forming the foundation for heaping layers of sauce, toppings and a warm blanket of real Wisconsin cheese. These slices are dense — the first few bites are pleasant but finishing one becomes a bit of a chore as you near the end.
The pizza makers are disciplined — they arranged exactly two large pieces of sausage per slice on my gridded pie. These sausages were the highlight of the slice — large savory chunks of seared meat with notes of fennel. The sauce was typical, though on the sweeter side.
In my opinion, Rocky Rococo’s makes a very decent slice. If you’re in the market for a pizza meal, you could do much worse than their signature pan-style. I prefer it vastly to mass market alternatives like Pizza Hut and Domino’s, but there’s no denying that area competitors like Pizza di Roma and Ian’s have it beat.
While I didn’t order them on that night, Rocky’s also has attractive side options like their breadsticks (always order with nacho cheese) and toasted ravioli (the St. Louis treat).
In some respects, Rocky Rococo’s is a relic of a bygone era. This is apparent at most of the locations — where faded décor and throwback rock hits playing on the PA hearken back to a time when children celebrated their birthdays at pizzeria-arcades.
The closure of the Rocky Rococo’s Party Pizzeria on East Washington Avenue last year seems to indicate that these types of establishments no longer hold the cachet among children that they used to. I don’t spend much time around children so I’m not sure if this is the case or not, but if you’re a kid who has access to Fortnite and Virtual Reality, why would you want to spend your birthday playing Skee Ball?
For those of us who did grow up scrounging for lost tokens underneath arcade machines, an occasional visit to Rocky Rococo’s is a bittersweet reminder of a simpler time. And since it would be extremely weird for a grown man to visit Chuck E. Cheese alone, this is probably your best bet for pizzeria-arcade nostalgia.