A special "shout out" to my sister-in-law, Anita, who bitched to my wife, "How can he have a web log about pizza places and not have Pagliai's on there!"
Well, that's because it's taken a lot of time to research the Pagliai family of pizza restaurants.
The Pagliai pizza joints all trace their roots back to the first Pagliai's pizza that was baked in Ames, IA in 1953. John and Catherine Pagliai left Italy in the early 1900's and came to Iowa and settled in a small coal mining town called Zook Spur, which was about two miles south of present day Madrid, IA. They raised three sons, Sam, Aldo and Armond.
Sam had a small neighborhood bar in Ames and he used a recipe his mother had in her family for years for baked dough pie with tomato sauce and cheese on top . One day in 1953, he served one to the leery patrons of the bar. It took some coaxing, but the people began to like it and even began to request that Sam make them one when they'd come in. It's been documented as the first pizza that was served in Central Iowa.
This led to the very first Pagliai's Pizza restaurant in 1957 in Ames' Campus Town area. A second Pagliai's Pizza opened in, I believe, nearby Boone, soon thereafter. There was also a Pagliai's in, I believe, Indianola, IA soon after that. All three are no longer in existence.
(Or the ones in Boone and Indianola may never have been in existence - I'm going off of personal recollections that were told to me and the stories I've gotten are a little fuzzy).
Armond opened up a Pagliai's Pizza in Iowa City in the 60's. He and his son, Armond, eventually co-owned the one there, hence it was officially known as "A & A Pagliai's Pizza". Armond's younger son, Brian, eventually opened his own Pagliai's in Des Moines, Johnston, IA and Grinnell, IA.
All told, there are 16 Pagliai's Pizza restaurants. Some were franchised out, but the bulk of them are owned and operated by members of the Pagliai family.
While all the Pagliai's I've eaten in are very good, the best one continues to be the Iowa City location (see map). Unlike the other Pagliai's, all they do is pizza. No sandwiches, no pasta, just pizza. It's hard to screw things up when you're only doing one thing.
Pagliai's was a staple of my diet when I was going to the University of Iowa back in the early 80's. Many nights walking home from the bars in downtown Iowa City with my old roommates meant scrounging our last available coins and dollar bills together to be able to get a small cheese pizza to eat while we walked the rest of the way home.
Pagliai's Pizza (at all their locations) is a thin crust pizza with fresh and plentiful toppings. If I'm not mistaken, each Pagliai's grinds their own sausage. The sausage at the one in Iowa City is, in my opinion, the best of the all the Pagliai's I've eaten at. It is wonderful pizza with a cold beer, too. I like the sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza (what a surprise!), and Cindy likes their sauerkraut and pineapple (yuck!).
The Pagliai's in Iowa City, well, I don't think Armond and Armond have touched the decor of the place since it opened in the 60's. It is seriously like walking into a time warp. There's a number of booths and tables throughout the place. The decor is not tired, per se. But it's definitely not 21st century.
Friday and Saturday nights, there's lines of people waiting to get seated. There's no bar, no waiting area (other than outside and in front of the counter in the front dining area). You just have to stand there and wait. Thankfully, you can get a beer while you're standing there waiting.
And the ovens have got to be the same ones they've used since the place opened up over 40 years ago. The pizza chefs are out in the open for everyone to see and the kitchen area is hustling and bustling all the time. It's by far the best pizza in Iowa City and one of the best in the whole Midwest.
Geez, after writing all this, my stomach is growling for a Pagliai's Pizza. Why can't they put one here in Davenport and show people around here what real pizza is?