One of my more favorite restaurants in the Iowa City area over the years has been the Wig and Pen on the Coralville strip (see map). They feature good pizza and a baked pasta dish called 'Wigatoni' that is just outstanding. On a recent trip home from being out for a couple days, I was passing by Iowa City around 7:30 p.m. and decided to stop in for dinner at the Wig and Pen.
The Wig and Pen goes back to my days in college at the University of Iowa in the early to mid-80's when it was known as the Coaches Corner. It was a popular place with a lot of the local people before and after Iowa Hawkeye sporting events. I don't really remember ever getting food there when it was the Coaches Corner - it was more of a beer bar from what I remember. But in the 90's, they changed the concept and renamed it the Wig and Pen Pub, styled after an English-style pub. They remodeled both the inside and outside of the place, right down to the English-style phone booth by the front door.
The Wig and Pen still is a place for the locals to meet up at anytime, but it's suddenly found favor with a lot of the college kids that go to Iowa. On my visit, which was on a Thursday evening, I was expecting to see a number of older local guys sitting in the bar area after a round of golf. I was overly surprised to see the bar and the tables in the bar area full of college-aged people enjoying Wig and Pen's deep dish pizzas, sandwiches and other good food.
One of the waitresses took me to a booth just inside the dining room where she gave me a menu and took my beer order. I generally refuse to sit at a table at the Wig and Pen as they use plastic chairs instead of "real" chairs in the dining area. The dining room is sort of two rooms - one in the front with windows that look out onto the Coralville strip, the other in the back northeast side of the building. There's dark paneling with a lot of English beer signs on the walls and a cozy feel to the place. And they did a great job of re-building the Wig and Pen after the devastating floods of 2008. The Wig and Pen is pictured in the background on the right hand side of this picture, behind the white building. They had about seven feet of water through the building and it was shut down for about eight or nine months for clean-up and renovations.
There's also some discussion amongst the locals as to whether the Wig and Pen is in Iowa City or in Coralville. They have an Iowa City address, but they're just west of the corner of Hawkins Drive and Hwy 6 West, a.k.a. the Coralville Strip (or 2nd St., to Coralville residents). I've been told the dividing line for the two cities goes right through the Wig and Pen's bar area. The restrooms are rumored to be in Coralville while the rest of the place is in Iowa City. Nonetheless, everyone seems to say the Wig and Pen is in Coralville.
There are two other Wig and Pen locations - one in Iowa City on the east side of town; the other one recently opened in Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines. God, I wish they would open one in the Quad Cities.
I pretty much knew what I wanted before I even went into the Wig and Pen that evening - Wigatoni! They take a combination of mostaccioli and rotini noodles and put them in a dish with your choice of mild or hot sausage and the Wig and Pen's homemade marinara sauce. It's then topped with mozzarella cheese and put into an over and baked at a high temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes. It's absolutely wonderful.
But I was sort of tempted to get one of Wig and Pen's thin crust pizzas. They're deep dish pizzas are very good, as well. It's also tough to pass up Wig and Pen's homemade onion rings, too. Their "guinea grinder" Italian sausage sandwich is very good (although the green peppers give me indigestion) and their baked reuben is also a very sandwich. But, no, I came in for Wigatoni - I was getting Wigatoni.
Given that they were pretty busy that evening, it took a little longer for me to get my Wigatoni - well over twenty minutes after I ordered it. But the wait was well worth it. Wig and Pen's Wigatoni has ample amounts of mozzarella on top, the chunks of sausage are large and plentiful, and I love the sweet marinara sauce. The cheese around the dish is caramelized and helps add to the overall flavor of the Wigatoni. Put a little parmesan cheese and hot pepper sprinkles on the top and it's a meal for the ages. About the only gripe I have about the Wigatoni is the amount of pasta noodles they use. They use a lot! I usually eat around the bulk of the pasta getting the chunks of sausage and the mozzarella while leaving a large portion of the pasta when I'm finished. It's tough to eat a full serving of Wigatoni in one sitting.
We've tried to make Wigatoni at home on a couple of occasions, but it never turns out as good as when you can get at Wig and Pen. I don't know if it's the hot Italian sausage or the marinara sauce or what, but I don't think anything compares to Wigatoni at the Wig and Pen. I continue to be amazed that for being less than 60 miles away, no one in the Quad Cities has tried to duplicate what a place like the Wig and Pen does for their pizza, pasta and sandwiches. Then again, it's sort of tough to duplicate the real thing. That's why I think the Wig and Pen would be an immediate hit in the Quad Cities.