In the over 10 years that I've been doing Road Tips, I've garnered a number of people who like to follow the blog over social media. A handful of these people I've conversed with on an occasional basis, or even met during my travels. A guy who has been following Road Tips for three or four years also happens to own a pizza place in Adair, IA - Zipp's Pizzeria. I've been promising the owner that I'd stop by at some point, but most of the times I go by Adair is usually when he's not open (he opens at 5 p.m. through the week - closed on Monday). On a recent trip between Des Moines and Omaha, I made the point to stop in and try one of his pizzas.
Jim Zimmerline is a pretty well-rounded guy. He's had his own lawn-care/landscaping business for over 20 years, he's a photographer whose specialty is taking sports action and motor racing photos (click here to see some of his work), and he's somewhat of a pizza connoisseur who travels around the Midwest and beyond, stopping at pizza places along the way to try out different styles of pizza. (That's sort of how he got hooked up with Road Tips - he found the blog and found that he had a kindred spirit in yours truly who was always looking for new and unique places to eat.)
Jim had always wanted to run his own restaurant - he'd grown up working in restaurants around the Adair area, primarily at McDonald's, Casey's, and at Happy Chef which is now called the Chuckwagon and the winner of the Iowa Beef Industry Council's Best Burger in Iowa contest for 2016. (Click here to read the Road Tips' visit to the Chuckwagon.) While at Casey's, he and a buddy were experimenting in the kitchen while taking a break from making pizzas and they made bread sticks and cheese sticks long before Casey's - or a lot of other places - had those items available. Jim knew that if he was going to do a restaurant he was going to concentrate on one thing and do it well - a philosophy that we both share. Given his affinity for pizza, he knew that he could do a pizza place and do it well.
Pictured right - Jim Zimmerline. Photo courtesy Zipp's Pizzaria Facebook page.
He and his wife, Tammy, leased a building in downtown Adair and they refurbished the corner space into Zipp's Pizzaria (yeah, it's spelled wrong, but I've always thought pizzeria should be spelled "pizzaria", too) using Jim's nickname in the name of the business. The Zimmerline's opened Zipp's Pizzaria in May of 2012.
The main road into the center of Adair has been out of commission for a long time due to the reconstruction of a bridge over the railroad on the town's south side. I was able to take a detour around to the east and over the tracks before I turned left and found Zipp's on the corner of Audubon and 3rd St. (see map) It was difficult to miss with the big mural of Jim Zimmerline as a pizza chef on the side of the building.
As I was walking from down the street toward Zipp's, a large man walked out of the restaurant and toward me. "How you doin'," he asked in an easy and affable manner as he turned to go into a door in the building next door. It turned out that they guy was Jim Zimmerline.
I'll have to admit, I really didn't know what to expect when I walked in the place. But I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice little cozy space with brick walls and corrugated tin wainscoting along the walls. A small bar area was up toward the front and the kitchen was in the back.
There was an area off to the side behind a low wall that featured longer tables for larger groups. Most of the people that were in there - and it was around 6 p.m. - were seated in the larger of the dining area that evening.
I took a seat along the east wall of the restaurant and a lady came over a little while after that with a menu. She asked if I wanted anything to drink and about the only thing they had to offer in terms of beer were Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors products - no craft beers, which was a bit of a disappointment. (But, then again, it IS small-town Iowa.) However, they did have Triple XXX Root Beer available which sort of surprised me. (More on that in a bit.)
Zipp's Pizzaria prides itself on using only the freshest ingredients for their pizza. In addition to making their own dough and pizza sauce, the Zimmerline's will chop fresh veggies daily and the meat is cooked directly on the pizza rather than beforehand like some pizza places will do. And he uses fresh provolone instead of mozzarella on his pizza, a curious choice in my book, considering Zipp's is one of a very few places I've found that uses provolone instead of mozzarella. (Which is probably why he does it that way.)
And it must be working because Zipp's has garnered mentions on web sites such as Red Tricycle (a family web site geared to raising children), First We Feast and by PBS as having the best pizza in Iowa. And last year the Iowa Tourism Office had a March Pizza Madness Award where people voted in three rounds for the best pizza in Iowa, and Zipp's taco pizza won the Best Pizza in Iowa award.
Honestly, I didn't know any of that when I went into the place. But I was intrigued by some of the pizzas they had to offer. They had a chicken broccoli pizza they were featuring that evening, but the other one they were showing on the menu was a chili dog pizza. Like me, it turns out that Jim Zimmerline is a chili dog aficionado and he came up with a chili dog pizza with sliced hot dogs, topped with cheddar cheese, chili and onions topped with yellow mustard. I would have to be in the right frame of mind to have one of those.
On my initial visit to Zipp's, I went with my standard Italian sausage, mushroom and pepperoni. They have 3 different sizes of thin-crust pizza - 10", 14" and 16" - and I went with the small 10". (They also have a thicker crust 12" pizza available.) They were pretty busy that evening, not only in the dining room, but with carry-out orders so it took a little over 20 minutes to get my pizza.
Jim Zimmerline and I are cut from the same cloth - we both like a good thin-crust pizza and the Zipp's pizza was the perfect thickness for the crust. It was misshapen, charred on the edges and cut into party cut (or tavern) squares. The pepperoni slices were large, the provolone was slathered over the top and had some nice caramelization. I let it set for awhile letting it cool down while all the flavors coagulated together.
From the first bite, I knew it was a great pizza. Not the best I've had in all my travels, but a great pizza for a small town in west central Iowa. Actually, it was a great pizza for anywhere in Iowa. The Italian sausage had a bit of a spicy bite and the mushrooms were fresh and earthy. The saltiness and spicy flavor helped this pizza pass my "Does it Taste Good With a Beer?" test. The sauce wasn't all that sweet - which is fine with me - and had a nice tomato sharpness on the tongue. I was a little taken back by the creaminess of the provolone cheese as I sort of missed the stringy nature of mozzarella. But the provolone was fine enough. This was the perfect sized pizza for one person, but I have to say that it was so good that I was sort of crestfallen after I had my final piece. I could have had a couple more squares and while I would have been stuffed, I would have been happy.
"No," I replied. "But he may know who I am."
She went to get him from the building next door and about three minutes later he came in. I introduced myself and at first he had a blank look on his face. When I went a little deeper into my explanation of my blog, his face lit up and he said, "Oh, sure! Yeah, yeah! You finally made it in! Great!" He asked me how I liked the pizza and I told him it was stellar.
We stood and talked for nearly 20 minutes - or maybe more - as he told me of all the places he'd been to, some that I had been to that he tried from reading Road Tips, and his philosophy of his restaurant. "We don't do anything half-assed," he told me in an enthusiastic, yet, matter-of-fact fashion. "There's too many other places out there that do it half-assed."
"Yep," he replied. "In fact, I'm heading out there to get some more root beer tomorrow. And I'm going to stop at a couple pizza places on the way out and some more on the way back." Here's a guy who will drive nearly 500 miles to get root beer for his restaurant because he thinks it's the best in the world. And it is very good root beer. That, to me, showed the passion Jim has for his business and bringing only the best to his customers. Plus, he's testing out other pizza places to get ideas and to see how his pizza stacks up against others out there.
I wanted to visit more with Jim, but I had another hour plus drive to get to Omaha and I didn't want to take up any more of his time. But I told him that I'd let him know when I was coming through again so we could sit down and talk some more.
Jim Zimmerline told me that he has people regularly come from up to 75 miles away to eat pizza at Zipp's Pizzaria. And I can easily see why. The pizza I had at Zipp's was very, very good - one of the better pizza places I have encountered in Iowa. It's difficult for me to say which pizza I've had in my travels is better, but the pizza at Zipp's easily rivals the top and more established places I've found in the Midwest. Take it from me, Zipp's is worth the side trip off Interstate 80 to experience a very good pizza in a cozy and friendly small-town atmosphere.