Des Moines has a surprising number of very good pizza places to choose from. I was talking with one of my dealers on a recent visit and he was telling me of a newer place in the Beaverdale neighborhood - Michael's Pizza. Well, he said the restaurant was new, but the pizza was an old recipe from a restaurant by the same name that started in the 70's. I had to go give Michael's Pizza a try.
The original Michael is Micheal Baier, an Exira, IA native who moved to Des Moines in the mid-60's after a stint in the Navy. After getting off work from his job as a meat cutter at a local grocery store, one of the places that he frequented was a small bar in Beaverdale called the Gin Mill. Previously known as the Golden Hawk, it was a favorite hang-out of politicians and regular folks. When he bought the place in 1973 and renamed it Michael's, it was just a lounge that was manned by Baier, his wife at the time, and a single bartender. Even though he had no experience running a restaurant, Baier turned to a friend in the food service industry, Sam Cohen, who taught him the ins-and-outs of the business operation of a restaurant.
In 1975, Michael's began to serve soups, salads and sandwiches at lunch time, then seven years later he expanded the restaurant and began to serve dinners. In 1994, he added a pizzeria - Poor Michael's. Michael Baier was there 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Over the years, he was helped out by his son and daughter, but also had a staff of about 25 people that worked for him.
In 2009, Michael Baier decided to retire and he closed the business. A year later, two young guys who worked for him at Michael's - Drew Thelen and Jon Ingram, along with Ingram's mother, Patricia Hulting - bought the Michael's name and the pizza recipe. After a couple of problems getting going, they opened the new Michael's in February of 2011 in a strip mall on the east side of Beaver Road in Beaverdale. (see map). The strip mall doesn't face the street and if you come from the north on Beaver Road, if you don't know where it is just past Urbandale Avenue, you can drive right past - like I did.
Once I got there, I suddenly remembered seeing an entry on Slakingfool's blog site about Michael's Pizza. I thought, "Ohhh, this is the place that I'd read about before!" I was excited to give the pizza a try.
Michael's is a small place. It seats 24 people with 5 four-seater tables and 2 two-seaters up front. Italian posters hang from the walls and contemporary industrial lights hang from the exposed ceiling. It's cozy and very comfortable.
I was greeted by a young lady behind the counter and I immediately ordered a small (10") pizza with my usual sausage, mushroom and pepperoni. I got a beer to go along with it. She immediately went into the back kitchen area and made up the pizza. While she was making the pizza, I grabbed a menu to look over. They have a number of specialty pizzas at Michael's including a number of different sauces to choose from including a basil pesto sauce, a Creole sauce and a Southwestern bean sauce. They have 10 different types of meats to choose from including a spicy sausage and a garlic sausage. I didn't specify what kind of sausage I wanted on my pizza, so I guessed that I was getting the garlic sausage. Eclectic toppings included pineapple, artichoke hearts, and, interestingly, roasted apples and roasted pears. Michael's Pizza also offers a handful of appetizers and salads, as well.
Just over 15 minutes after I ordered, she brought the pizza out to me. The cheese was caramelized and looked creamy to me - sort of a cross between mozzarella and provolone cheese. There were large chunks of sausage on the pizza - the way I like it. Small discs of pepperoni and slices of fresh mushrooms were interspersed with the sauce, cheese and sausage.
After letting it cool for a bit, I took my first bite of a Michael's pizza. The cheese did have a creamy texture to it and had a great flavor. The sausage wasn't spicy (it had to be the garlic sausage - they probably got it from Graziano Brothers) but it was very flavorful and held together well in its chunks. The sauce was sort of sweet and tangy. The crust was thin, crisp, but wasn't cracker-like in its consistency. The pizza at Michael's easily passed my "Does it Taste Good with a Beer?" test. It tasted great with a beer.
I added some parmesan cheese and crushed red peppers to a couple of subsequent slices. It helped zip up the taste without detracting from the overall taste of the pizza. The pizza, on its own, was exceptional.
I'm still amazed that a city like Des Moines has access to so many great pizzerias while my home area of the Quad Cities is woefully deficient in the number of good pizza places. Des Moines is certainly a pizza town and Michael's Pizza is one that I'd put up against some of my favorites in the area that I've found over the years. The dining area is cozy and quaint, and the pizza is top notch. There's nothing that I could complain about my pizza at Michael's Pizza.