Chain Gang | Pizzeria Uno becomes a Grill

Chain offers more choices, but don't try to sub the soup

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THE CHAIN GANG never really noticed when Pizzeria Uno changed its name to Uno Chicago Grill, but it probably happened when the deep dish pizza maker added about 1,000 items to its menu, turning it into something like Pizzeria Bennigan's.

We were at the Uno's out in Doylestown (they still let people smoke in restaurants out in the 'burbs) and in a bit of a rush, never the best move at a chain.

First off, the music - Prince, R.E.M., Sheryl Crow - was surprisingly listenable, and played at a proper background decibel level.

Our biggest gripe? The soup. Or lack thereof.

The Chain Gang isn't an elderly early-bird couple who takes up a table for two hours while splitting a corned beef sandwich with a cup of tea. We order a fair amount of food.

At Uno's we started with an individual Pepperoni Deep Dish ($8.29) and a Super Taste Plate with additional ribs ($13.98).

The pizza was good with the requisite gooey cheese but we were split on the pepperoni - some liked the overcooked crispiness giving it the consistency of a potato chip, some would have preferred their pepperoni chewier.

The highlight of the taster plate was the onion rings, crispy on the outside, with a big slice of sweet onion on the inside. The cheese sticks, french fries, Buffalo wings, chicken fingers and ribs were all respectable, but not out of the ordinary.

The annoying part of the meal came when we ordered our main dishes and the ornery Gangster, who requested the Chop House Classic top sirloin steak with salad ($17.49) asked for a small cup of soup in place of the two sides that came with the meal - since he'd already sampled all the sides in our taster plate.

The waiter didn't think they could sub soup. The hostess didn't think so either, but called an unseen manager (like the banker on "Deal or No Deal"). She told us the manager said soup is one of the few things they can't sub.

As the grammatical gangster said, "Of course they CAN sub it. They just don't want to."

But why not? A small cup of soup can't cost more than two sides - it's not like we were asking to sub French Fries with a lobster tail - and if it makes a Gangster (or a normal customer) happy, what's the big deal?

The main dishes only went so far to remove the bad taste from our mouths.

The steak was overcooked but it was ordered medium well so we can't fault Uno's kitchen for that. The Baked Haddock ($10.99) was bland, but haddock is a bland fish and it was fairly moist and tender. We split opinions pro-and-con on the mashed potatoes, which were clumpy with skins and not over-whipped. The roasted veggies were good - and healthy.

The Fettucine Bolognese ($10.99) gets a write-up on the menu as if tasting it will be a life-changing event - it wasn't. The sauce was meaty but its consistency with the noodles was too gloppy, it was all a big mush.

Desserts were good. The Brownie Bowl ($4.79) looks huge thanks to dollops of whipped cream decorating the plate, but the core brownie/ice cream portion is a manageable size. The Deep Dish Sundae ($4.99) isn't a sundae at all, but a big, baked, melty chocolate chip cookie beneath a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and drizzled chocolate sauce. Best part, the cookie held up well after a few hours in the trunk of our limo.

One note about servers (and the Gang has noticed this throughout our travels): With so many people affected by nut and seafood allergies, servers need to know what's in their food.

A simple question about nuts in the apple crisp came back with a "yes," then a "no," then a "maybe," then a "yes." It seems to the Chain Gang that every restaurant in the country should have a laminated list on the wall at the door of the kitchen: These Foods have Nuts! These Foods Have Seafood!

It's one thing to die eating rare sushi. It's another to keel over due to chain restaurant cobbler topping. *

The chain truth

Chain: Uno Chicago Grill, 1661 Easton Road, Doylestown, 215-491-1212. Other locations: 1009 Ridge Pike, Plymouth Meeting, 610-825-3050, 2803 Route 73, Maple Shade, 856-722-5577, 1162 Hurffville Road, Deptford, 856-853-7003, 789 Franklin Mills Circle, 215-632-5577, 1100 Bethlehem Pike, North Wales, 215-283-9760, 198 North Buckstown Road, Langhorne, 215-741-6100, 8 N. Pottstown Pike, Exton, 610-280-4555, 225 Sloan Ave., Hamilton, N.J., 609-890-0864.

Reservations: No, but call-ahead seating.

Parking: Free.

Price: Dinner for three including one beer, two soft drinks, two appetizers, three main dishes and two desserts was a reasonable $85.24 plus tip.

Portions: A fair size.

Overall grade: Three links. Not numero Uno, but the food is consistent and reasonably tasty, especially if you've sampled the menu and know what you like. *