If you're a regular reader of Road Tips, you know that I'm not very fond of what I call "Quad City-style" pizza. It features lifeless ground sausage and bland tomato sauce on a thin, yet doughy pizza that are cut into long rectangles. Harris Pizza is the main pizza in the area and I'm simply amazed by the number of "cloned" restaurants around the Quad Cities that feature a similar style of pizza. Oh, there are a few places that buck the trend and one of them is a place called Pagalo's Pizzeria in the Illinois-side suburb of Milan (MY-lan).
For years, Pagalo's was better known as Pinocchio's Pizza and was one of the better places around the Quad Cities to get a pizza. I had mentioned Pinocchio's briefly in my synopsis of Quad City area pizza places in one of my first entries on this blog about five and a half years ago - an entry that is woefully outdated. (You can see that entry by clicking here.) Pinocchio's was started by businessman John Hoffman in 1996 and features wood-fired gourmet pizzas, the first of its kind in the Quad Cities. It started out as a small little place that sat about 35 to 40 people when it first opened, but in 1998 Hoffman expanded the restaurant to include a banquet/overflow room that effectively doubled the seats in the restaurant. In 2001, Hoffman took over the business that had occupied the street side frontage of the building and opened J Crickets, a bar/lounge that catered to cigar smokers. When the state of Illinois went smoke free in public places in January of 2008, that concept was literally snuffed out.
Last December, we went to Pinocchio's for a pizza and immediately noticed that the name had changed. It was now called "Pagalo's Pizzeria and Gelato Cafe". We were a little leery with the change, but we walked in and saw that the place was basically the same. After we sat down, Cindy asked the waitress what the deal was with the name change. She said, "Oh, the owner is looking to franchise the restaurant and it turned out that someone else had the Pinocchio name for a pizza place. So, he just changed the name. Everything else is the same, though."
It was a Friday evening and our son, Eric, was with us as we decided to go to Pagalo's (we still refer to it as "Pinocchio's - old habits die hard). It's about a 15 minute drive across the river, down I-74 to I-280 westbound and then getting off at the Airport Road exit which takes you into downtown Milan. Pagalo's is located right where Highway 67 and Airport Road meet up (see map). The parking lot is pretty small, but there is some overflow parking on the north side of the building. We were surprised to be able to get one of the spots just in front of Pagalo's.
For that time of the evening, we were surprised to find only one large party occupying a large table in the center of the well-lit main dining room at Pagalo's, with two or three other couples in the booths along the side walls. As time went along, more people showed up and it began to fill up fast.
The wood-fired oven is along the west wall of the main dining room with a tall counter that serves as a pizza preparation area between the oven and the main dining area. An electronic digital temperature gauge is prominently displayed on the wall next to the opening where you can see the flames dancing in the oven. That evening the temperature darted between 708 and 712 degrees F (375 to 377 C). It doesn't take long to cook a pizza at Pagalo's.
We sat in one of the corner booths and a waitress came over with some menus and took our drink orders. Many of the gourmet pizzas that Pinocchio's featured are the same with Pagalo's. Cindy especially loves the one that features fresh chopped tomatoes, red onions and garlic.
The Italian sausage at Pagalo's is still the same ground sausage like you can find at 90 percent of the other pizza places in the Quad Cities. But they use fresh mushrooms and pretty good pepperoni on their pizzas, and they cut them in traditional triangles, not the long skinny slices that could easily be made into party cuts if the pizza chef would just make a couple more cuts across the pizza.
Cindy wanted her special pizza that evening, so Eric and I decided to get a medium sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. Cindy got a small pizza with all her natural vegetarian stuff on top. She also got a small house salad with homemade poppy seed dressing to tide her over until the pizza came. Cindy also got a glass of the house Chianti wine to go along with her pizza.
As I said, it doesn't take long for the wood-fired oven to make a pizza at Pagalo's. I timed it this time with my timer on my new phone and it took just over 12 minutes from the time we placed our order to the time we got the pizza on the table. Cindy wasn't even close to being through with her salad by the time her pizza made it to the table.
The pizza crust at Pagalo's is thin and cripsy, but has a nice chewy texture to it. The crust edges are much thicker and are indicative of the hand-tossed nature of the dough. Cooking it in a wood-fired grill gives it a smoky and rich Neapolitan taste. The toppings are plentiful - they really put a lot of the ground sausage on the pizza Eric and I had - and very fresh. My only quibble would be that they need to put a little more fresh mozzarella cheese on top of the ingredients.
Well, another quibble had to do with the waitress. She seemed rather indifferent and sort of forgot about us a couple of times. The place was getting busier, but when I wanted to get another beer, she was up behind the counter doing something. When I finally did get her attention to get another beer, it took her about three minutes to retrieve one from J Crickets. And when she left the full bottle on the table, she neglected to pick up the empty. And when I went to pay with my credit card, the bill she left off at the table didn't match the total on the credit card receipt. We guessed that she was rather new to the wait staff at Pagalo's.
The bill is the other problem I had with Pagalo's. Cindy mentioned going to Lunardi's for dinner that evening, but I said that it was too expensive for three people. When she mentioned Pinocchio's (Pagalo's) I thought that would be a pretty good value for a meal. The bill for a medium pizza, a small pizza, two beers, a pop and a glass of wine for Cindy was about $47 bucks. To me, that was a little extravagant for a pizza place. Cindy said, "Well, maybe they raised their prices when they changed names." I'm guessing that was possibly true.
I may have to think twice about visiting Pagalo's in the future. The pizza is very good - not the best in the Quad Cities, in my opinion - but still much better than the Harris Pizza-style joints that proliferate the area. But the price tag was a little bit of a shocker for me. It thought it was about 8 to 10 bucks too high for what we got. But with the dearth of good pizza places in the Quad Cities, we may be forced to go back to Pagalo's down the road. But we just won't go there as frequently as we once did.