The first time I went to The Rock was in the early 2000s, in Tacoma. It was the first location of what would become a rock-and-roll-themed pizza chain; this was before it became super cheesy. It wasn't a hole-in-the-wall, but it felt less like a gimmick and more like a neighborhood spot with a sense of humor. It was where my friends and I would go for pizza after making the trek south for a show at Hell's Kitchen or other all-ages Tacoma venues. I loved going there because they had Thomas Kemper Root Beer on tap and about 800 different pizza toppings, including broccoli, and there's nothing I love more on my pizza than goddamn broccoli.
The Rock has changed over the years. Now there are more than a dozen locations spread out around Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Canada (with plans to develop 40 stores before 2020), including one two blocks from my apartment on Lower Queen Anne. It's in the newish Maxwell Hotel—the one with the big pineapple on the front.
I was excited to see that The Rock was opening so close to my house. "That's the place I used to go with Patty and everyone after shows in Tacoma!" I told my husband. But the first time we walked through the door, less than a week after they opened, I said with a heavy heart, "This is not the same place I used to go after shows in Tacoma..."
Today, The Rock looks like Bret Michaels's man cave. The rock-and-roll theme has been turned up to 11—way, way overdone. There's nothing charming or neighborhoody about it. There are fake exposed brick walls with fake holes busted into them. Tabletops are made out of panels from amp cases. Neon lights are fucking flowing everywhere. And the waiters greet you by saying something like "How you dudes doin'? I'm gonna be your buddy for the next hour or so."
It's like all the restaurants in every movie about working in a crappy restaurant rolled into one.
The food has gotten the commercial makeover, too. While they still get more experimental with their pizza combinations than your average joint (and they still have more than 30 toppings to choose from, from arugula and almonds to whole roasted garlic cloves), now it feels like a heat-and-serve eatery instead of a local, independently owned pizza joint with handmade crust.
Everything on the menu has classic-rock-themed names. Day Trippers are fat mini-calzone stuffed with pepperoni, sausage, and mozzarella or, alternately, jalapeño peppers, artichoke hearts, and herb cream cheese. They were scorching hot on the outside, still very cold in the middle, and served with a side of marinara and ranch dressing. The paper in the wire basket to help absorb the grease was fake sheet music for a song called "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock Some Dough)."
Brown Sugar Mozz Bread is exactly what it sounds like: Their garlic mozzarella bread (which I like) is covered in brown sugar (?!) and baked until gooey. It's not bad, it's just... weird. I don't regret trying it, but I also never want to eat it again.
Also in the not-bad-but-not-great category is the pizza. There's worse pizza in Seattle (just down the street, in fact, at New York Pizza & Bar). Because it's wood-fired, the crust is crunchy on the outside and tender in the middle, and the dough is slightly sweet. The sauce is so, so bland, but you can fix that by putting whatever the fuck you want on it—hot peppers, loads of red pepper flakes. Or you could get the white sauce, which is more delicate than bland, and acts as a nice creamy background to whatever you feel like putting on top. But most importantly—to me, at least—one of the available toppings is broccoli. Where else in Seattle, other than Zeeks, can you put broccoli on your pizza? (No, seriously, if you find me a place, I will go there.)
Of course, Bambino's is better pizza. Big Mario's is better pizza. Hot Mama's, Zeeks, and Piecora's are better pizza. And when you eat at those places, you don't feel like you're sitting in the Hard Rock Cafe's quasi-rebellious little brother's basement. But none of those places are two blocks from my house, and sometimes you just get tired of Pagliacci, okay?
The Rock: If you're near Seattle Center and you like broccoli on your pizza, it's a place to go.