Serious Eats contributor Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel from the road, this time in Iowa City. —The Mgmt.
Wig and Pen Pizza Pub
1220 Hwy 6 West, Coralville, IA 52241 (map); 319-354-2767; wigandpeneast.com
Pizza Style: Thin crust, stuffed and Flying Tomato
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: The Flying Tomato is short on tomato, but will still appeal to those who like mozzarella in very large quantities
Price: Large Flying Tomato with one topping, $24.35.
On my way back to Chicago from Omaha a little over a week ago, I took a break from the rolling hills of young corn that were interrupted by the occasional wind farm to stop in Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, for a late lunch that would get me through the rest of the drive. In doing my research before starting the trip, I discovered that Iowa City did not seem to be a particularly notable pizza town. That said, I did find a popular place that offered a new type of pizza: the Wig & Pen Pizza Pub.
In the 16 years since Dick Querrey took over the Wig & Pen and made significant menu changes, the popular Iowa City spot has expanded to three locations, one of which bounced back from some serious flooding last year. Querrey, who runs the place with help from his kids, serves three kinds of pizza: thin crust, stuffed, and the Flying Tomato Pie.The Flying Tomato is a cross between a stuffed pizza and a pan pie that was invented by a cook at the Wig & Pen who was having fun experimenting in the kitchen. Since I am always eager to try new types of pizza, ordering a Flying Tomato was a no-brainer.
The Flying Tomato comes with a truly impressive amount of cheese, which is a blend of whole milk mozzarella and part skim mozzarella, the traditional mixture that most purveyors of stuffed pizza use. Unlike stuffed pizzas, which come with a thin crust on top of the cheese, which is then covered with a heavy layer of think, chunky, and preferably tangy sauce, the Flying Tomato has no upper crust and has a sparse layer of thin sauce under the cheese. On top of the cheese are the tomato slices that provided the pizza’s creator with inspiration for a name. Another difference between the Flying Tomato and traditional stuffed pizzas is that the crust was made with butter instead of shortening. The sausage, which Wig & Pen gets from a supplier in Chicago, came in large chunks and had a good amount of flavor and chewiness.
But the focus of the Flying Tomato is the massive amounts of cheese and garlic powder. I happen to love mozzarella and garlic flavor in virtually any format, so any place that takes substantial amounts of both and puts it on a flaky, buttery crust is going to be a winner in my book. That said, I would have liked more sauce on the pizza as the little bit that was there was overwhelmed by the heft of the cheese and the flavor from the garlic. The sausage and tomato slices did offer some balance, but this was a pizza created for serious cheese addicts.
Wig & Pen was good enough that if I find myself in Iowa City again and I’m looking for pizza, I would not hesitate going back. That said, if I do end up in that position, I’ll give their stuffed pizza try. I fully appreciate pizzas with pounds of cheese on top, but I need more than a couple of tomato slices to balance it out. For those even more enamored with mozzarella and garlic than I am, I’d think that the Flying Tomato would be perfect for you.