It's nice when one of the McFamily Restaurant chains turns out to serve reasonably good food in a reasonably pleasant atmosphere. Bertucci's,
or at least the Amherst version of Bertucci's, does so. It's set in a soaring space with ridiculously high ceilings that sport enormous blue pipes and an exposed metal building frame. Even if it winds up looking like nothing so much as a gymnasium, it is a very pleasant one, with old Yankee furnishings like hanging cast-iron chandeliers, gorgeous wooden tables and beams, and sepia-toned photographs. Modernist touches like a long stone bar and an exposed kitchen playoff the ceiling framework to give the place a surprisingly upscale flair.
If you can look past the mass-produced aesthetic of the menus, they also show spikes of sophistication. Three-cheese focaccia is a crispy starter that comes with a winning sauce of smoky tomatoes. Complete enough to be a meal, the eggplant Napoleon is more than the sum of its parts: mozzarella, roasted eggplant, tomatoes, pesto, elegant greens, and a breadstick. For our mains, we favor the pizza. There's a real brick oven in the open kitchen, and it can turn out some enjoyable pies. Crusts are pleasingly crispy, cheese is well handled, and ingredients taste fresh. Meat eaters will find the Sporkie, with mild ricotta and sweet sausage, easy to love. The segmented Ultimate Bertucci also fares well; one quarter of the disc boasts an especially fragrant rosemary ham. For those less carnivorous, the Lestina, with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and roasted garlic, can be very special (when not overwhelmed with a carpet of chewy rosemary leaves).Lunch begins with a free salad; or you can get one for $2 with
dinner. Here, though, you get what you pay for: a curious mix of iceberg lettuce and bell peppers, shredded American cheese, and a supermarket-style vinaigrette. Then there are the famous Bertucci's dinner rolls (they're served at lunch as well), which have built up a cult following, perhaps in large part because they arrive warm enough to melt butter, a quality that has undeniable appeal. Otherwise, call us crazy, but we don't think these hot, dense doughballs are such a revelation. We also don't like many of the huge-portioned pasta dishes. The trend there is that they either perish in a sea of cream or are bland and dry, although rotating specials can be better. In any case, throngs of locals and students arrive at peak times, leading to long waits. Most of them stick to the pizza. So should you.