We're always on the lookout for new pizza places to try in the Quad Cities. We recently tried a new place - well, new to us, but not new to people on the Illinois side of the river - called Saint Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza. The lady who does pedicures for us (that's right - I get pedicures and they're GREAT!) suggested this place and we thought we'd give it a shot one night.
Now, most of the pizza places in the Quad Cities fashion their style of pizza after Harris Pizza, the four-restaurant establishment that is near and dear to the hearts of most Quad City residents. Harris Pizza is the first pizza many of the life-long residents enjoyed and will still flock to one of the restaurants for their pizza. And some people who moved away from the Quad's still regard Harris as the best pizza in the world. The only problem is that in my somewhat educated opinion about pizza, it's not.
One of the most viewed posts on Road Tips has been my synopsis, nearly 4 1/2 years ago of Quad City pizza places. (Click here to see that post.) I should get around to update that post, but part of it had to do with my first - and only - encounter with Harris Pizza. Here's the story -
I had just moved to the Quad's in 1991 and everyone was telling me how great Harris Pizza was. So one night on a Sunday night, it was getting kind of late and I decided to call for a Harris Pizza to go pick up. I ordered my usual - sausage, pepperoni, mushroom - and I ordered a large so I could put some in the fridge and piece on it through the week.
I ordered from the one on E. Locust and went and picked it up. I took it back to my apartment and tried a piece. Hmm, something with the taste isn't right here. Ooo, what are these things on top? Is this the sausage? Where's the big chunks? I finished that piece and got into the second piece. It wasn't tasting too good. In fact, it tasted pretty bad. For the first time in my life, I actually threw away a nearly whole pizza.
I got home late on the following Monday night from a meeting in Iowa City and remembered that trash day was the next morning. I took the trash out to the curb around midnight and went in and went to bed. The next morning, I had to be up for a 7:30 meeting at the store I was working at. As I was driving out of the parking lot, I noticed that something had gotten into my garbage sack. I stopped and kind of cleaned things up around the sack and noticed that the Harris Pizza box was opened - and not one piece had been taken! The pizza was so bad, even the critter that got into my garbage thought it sucked and wouldn't eat it! True story!
If you've read "Road Tips" for any time, now, or even click on the "Pizza" category to read about past visits to some pretty damn good pizza joints, I consider myself to be somewhat of a pizza connoisseur. What I thought made the Harris pizza so bad was the rather bland tomato sauce - it didn't even taste like tomatoes. The sausage - it's not even Italian fennel sausage - is ground and scattered across the pizza. Harris Pizza started this practice saying that you get the taste of sausage (or whatever meat topping) with every bite. The only problem is that the sausage is about as bland as the tomato sauce. And while the crust is thin, it's spongy and limp with large crust edges that are make it too chewy.
From time to time, Cindy's work place will bring in Harris pizzas for lunch for the work force. She's at the point that she won't even have a piece because she doesn't like it. But both Cindy and I were not raised in the Quad Cities and were exposed to more authentic Italian-style pizza growing up.
Over the years, a number of Harris Pizza "clone" shops have popped up around the Quad Cities. That's because a handful of former workers at Harris have opened up their own pizza places. What gets me is that a lot of these places are thriving - having the SAME style of pizza as Harris. I mean, why would anyone want to go to a Harris Pizza-style pizza place when they can get the original at four different locations around the Quad Cities?
That's when we heard about St. Giuseppe's and found out that the owner didn't appear to have any connection or past with Harris Pizza, we were encouraged that it could be a pretty good place. In fact, Bobby Schilling was an insurance salesman supporting a large (and growing family) when he decided to make a complete career change in 1997 by opening a pizza restaurant that was based on "family values and Christian beliefs" (hence the "heavenly pizza"). From the start, Schilling and his wife, Christie, worked hard to make a go of the place. As the business got up and going, Schilling decided to close on Sunday's to allow his employees and himself the opportunity to spend time with family.
But Schilling decided that running the restaurant wasn't enough. He is running as the Republican nominee for the 17th Congressional district which encompasses a large portion of Western Illinois. It's an uphill climb for Schilling running in a district that has voted primarily Democratic for nearly the past 30 years. But he feels he has a good chance of overtaking incumbent Phil Hare in the fall elections. Click here to see his web site for U.S. Congress.
(Update - Schilling did, indeed, win the Congressional election in 2010 and represents the Illinois Quad Cities in the U.S. House of Representatives. Here's his congressional web site - http://schilling.house.gov/)
St. Giuseppe's has turned into a pretty popular place on 53rd St. in Moline just a couple blocks south of The Avenue of the Cities and a couple blocks west of the Moline/East Moline border (see map). We found that to be true the one evening we were there as the restaurant was over half full and there was a steady stream of people coming in for "to-go" orders on pizza. The phone never stopped ringing with orders while we were there.
We found a table in the center of the restaurant that seats approximately 60 people. There were a couple booths near a buffet area (lunch Tuesday thru Saturday) on the north wall and five or six booths along the south wall. The front counter is also the pizza oven area and the young guys back there were hand-tossing the pizza dough. That was a good sign for us.
There was only one waitress in the place and she was overwhelmed by the amount of people that were coming in. It was about five minutes before she could even come over to greet us. By that time, we'd looked at the menu they had on the table and figured we just wanted to get a medium sausage and pepperoni pizza. Cindy also wanted to get a garden salad as a starter. Since St. Giuseppe's is a family-oriented place - fully indicated by the crayon-drawn pictures that sat under a clear plastic table cover on all the tables - I pretty much figured I couldn't get a beer with our pizza. So I just stuck with water. Cindy got an iced-tea.
As I said, the waitress was very busy and she was the one who was taking orders, getting drinks, clearing tables, making salads and bringing food to the tables. About three or four tables or booths remained cluttered with plates and glasses for quite some time after those who had eaten at those stations had left. The three guys back behind the counter were also very busy taking phone orders, waiting on people to pick up pizzas, and making the pizza.
It took our waitress about 15 minutes to come out with Cindy's salad. She got a side of their homemade garlic dressing which was really nothing more than garlic powder in mayo, but the garden salad was very good with chunks of fresh tomatoes, olives and chopped lettuce greens. Cindy gave me a bite and it was very fresh.
Another 15 minutes went by and she finally came out with our pizza. As soon as she set it down, Cindy and I looked at one another - it was another Harris Pizza clone. Ground sausage - plain ground sausage - a mild tomato sauce, lots of cheese hiding a few slices of pepperoni and a limp and soft thin crust with thick edges.
And it was OK, nothing special. Even a cold beer wouldn't have been able to help the taste. But it was just like any number of other pizza joints in the area. It's almost like all these pizza places get their meat, sauce and dough from the same food purveyor. It's all the same as the others. That's what upsets me most about Quad City area pizza places.
The price wasn't bad - the pizza, an iced-tea and the salad came to $18.50, tax included. I left our waitress a $3.50 tip because she was working hard, but they really needed two waitresses to keep up with the crowd they had in there.
I'm sure St. Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza is a popular alternative to Harris Pizza in the eyes of some people. But we probably won't drive all the way over there to have a pizza again when we can easily get the same style of pizza at three or four different establishments on the Iowa side of the river.