On a recent trip to Central Iowa, I was forced to get a hotel room in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny, just north of the city, because something was going on in Des Moines and all the good hotel rooms were full. I found a room at a Hampton Inn in Ankeny and decided that I'd go get something to eat. I looked up pizza places on my GPS and the Wig and Pen came up. That's right - Ankeny has a Wig and Pen, just like the original one in the Iowa City/Coralville area. I decided to head that direction for a late dinner.
The Wig and Pen on the border of Iowa City and Coralville (some say the boundary goes through the men's bathroom) is one of my all-time favorite places to go to. (Click here to see my entry on Wig and Pen.) They have a dish called the Wigatoni that is basically baked rigatoni in a meat sauce (spicy or mild - I usually get the spicy) with copious amounts of caramelized mozzarella cheese that on top. It is truly to die for. But their pizza is pretty good, too. My wife and I met her sister there for dinner last fall and we got one of their deep dish pizzas. It was as if we were transported to Chicago for the evening for a good Chicago stuffed pizza. We like the deep-dish stuffed pizza a little more than their signature "Flying Tomato" deep-dish pizza that is garnished with tomato slices on the top.
And this is what frustrates me - the Quad Cities sits 55 miles closer to Chicago than Iowa City and there are only one or two of what I would call "good" pizza places in the greater Q.C. area thanks to the proliferation of the ghastly Quad City-style pizza. Iowa City has four excellent places for pizza - including a couple "Chicago-style" places that I can think of off the top of my head and if I searched harder I could probably find two or three more. So when I found out that Wig and Pen had expanded 115 miles to the west in Ankeny about seven years ago, I was upset because they could have put a location in the Quad Cities and literally cleaned up.
It was around 9 p.m. when I got into the Wig and Pen in Ankeny. It's located in the corner of a new-ish strip mall on Ankeny's south side on S. Ankeny Blvd. across from the main campus for the Des Moines Area Community College, about a five minute drive from the hotel. (see map) There were only a few people in the place when I walked in. They serve food until 10 p.m. through the week, so I was OK.
The dining area at the Wig and Pen in Ankeny is different from the one in Iowa City/Coralville. It's a little more spiffy and open in the Ankeny location than the well-worn, but warm feeling you get from the very cozy dining room in Iowa City.
I ended up sitting at the bar and got a menu from the bartender/server, Katie. She was efficient, but a little withdrawn and indifferent. I couldn't tell if she was tired or if she was upset that I came in after 9 p.m. on a weeknight to get food. Sometimes I get that vibe if a place has been slow and I come in to order food late.
I was going to make it easy on her. I just wanted a small, thin-crust sausage, pepperoni and mushroom pizza. It had been a long time since I'd gotten a thin-crust pizza at the Iowa City/Coralville Wig and Pen and I wanted to try one that evening. And it didn't take long to get out to me as I was - by that time - the only one ordering food in the place.
Like the one in Iowa City/Coralville, the pizza was cut into square party cut - or some call them "tavern cut" - slices instead of the traditional triangle cuts. Caramelized mozzarella covered the top of the pizza with large chunks of sausage, fresh mushroom slices and a good amount of pepperoni slices were included on the pizza.
At first, I thought the pizza was overcooked a bit. The crust was a little hard and crispy when I got the first bite. But as I went on and the pizza settled a bit, the crust became more pliable and not as crunchy. The sweet and tangy tomato sauce Wig and Pen uses on their pizzas in the Iowa City area was the same as the one I had in Ankeny. As I said, it had been a long time since I'd had a thin-crust pizza at the original Wig and Pen, but the one that I had in the Ankeny location acquitted itself very well. It's one of the wonderful pizzas that tastes great with a cold beer.
Here's a note to the owners of Wig and Pen over in Iowa City - do yourselves (and ME!) a big favor. Look toward the east and put a location in Davenport. The Fieldhouse from Iowa City is opening a location in the North Park Mall and their food isn't even close to what the Wig and Pen offers. I'm hoping that gets restaurant owners in Iowa City to consider going east. If they can replicate the original Wig and Pen's food in Ankeny, they could easily do it in half the distance between Iowa City and Ankeny. I'm not certain the people in Ankeny know how lucky they are have a Wig and Pen location. But they're a lot more lucky than the people in the Quad Cities.