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Dating Idea: In Search for the Best Thin Crust Pizza in Central Iowa

Last summer (2011) I started this dating series with two motivations:

1) To have something positive on our website because some of the topics we have to deal with in counseling are pretty dark.  Looking at fun, proactive, dating ideas for creative couples on the go seemed like an upbeat and simple way to demonstrate to folk, that, indeed, having a healthy relationship isn’t all that hard if you take your heart out of the cellar.  A little sunlight would be good.

2)  I keep hearing from all these couples a) we don’t have anything in common; b) we don’t have any time; c) we don’t have any money; d) we aren’t compatible (I absolutely don’t buy that argument.  You change over time.  You need to be conscientiously seeking out fun ways to connect over your lifetime.  Fifty to 60 years is a long time!  We live in a free society that is constantly in flux, people.  Searching for common interests is half the fun!  Enjoy the journey!)  e) we are bored and have nothing to do but i) watch TV (and we don’t like the same shows!) or ii) dinner and a movie.  THEREFORE: we need to get a divorce because we are bored with each other.

AHHHHHH!  Don’t just buy a ticket to marriage and sit with your head covered praying to your navel “I am bored, I am bored”  (As Walker Percy wonders, why is it that humans are the only species in the Cosmos that get’s bored?).  If you don’t invest in your marriage you won’t get any return.  Period.  Get off your butt and do something!  And have a little fun while you are at it.

Today I’m introducing a simple dating idea that you can do every Friday or Saturday night for a long time (provided you don’t live in Alaska and have to fly to the grocery store): search out for your favorite food in whatever category or geographical area.  It could be the restaurant that serves the best steak, onion rings, pizza, pork tenderloin, Bar-B-Q , Chinese, Italian, Modern or whatever.  You can take your search to wider geographical areas and explore another city between meals.  There’s over 70 Bar-B-Q places in Kansas City.  We’ve gone there for a weekend and hit three Bar-B-Q joints in two days.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about that trip again!  A Deep Dish Pizza or Chicago Style Hot Dog search in Chicago is pretty fun.  You can hit Michigan Avenue or the Field Museum between meals.

We tend to be creatures of habit, which is just fine and a major reason you don’t go crazy.  Routine give some semblance and order to life.  That’s totally fine.  But, hey, going to the same restaurant or two or three over and over again can get a little tedious.  Shaking up our habits and throwing in some new sights and sounds and smells and tastes invites the two of you to DISCUSS your NEW EXPERIENCE.  Imagine that?  Discussing, experiencing, noticing, and commenting would all be good.  One guy told me that in the McDonald’s he works at, people come in for 3 meals a day!  What’s this couple going to talk about?  “The Egg McMuffin is particularly eggie today.”  Come on, people.

Here’s a chronicle of one of our hunts: For the best thin-crust pizza in Central Iowa.

We wouldn’t have started a hunt for the best pizza if our favorite pizza place, Old Georges, in Ames was still in business.  We, too, are creatures of habit, but Old George’s Pizza was so good we never even considered looking for another pizza joint.  But, alas, Georges went out of business a couple of years ago and we’ve been mourning our loss ever since.  We live in Ames, Iowa, a Big 12 University Town with Iowa State University a mile away.  You’d think with 28 thousand plus students in town there’d be awesome pizza places, but we’ve had a rough go.

All the regulars are here: Pizza Hut, Godfathers, Caesar’s, Casey’s, Pappa John’s, and Old Chicago.  There are some local places that are unique to Ames, some with a unique flair, like Vesuvius with their genuine 800 degree Italian pizza oven that takes only 2 minutes to make your pizza.  That place is worth the trip for the experience, but it’s a little too upper crust for our tastes, no pun intended.

The best of the bunch is Great Plains Pizza, which is still on our list for lunch.  At noon there’s always a line for their pizza by the slice.  One slice is enough for most people.  They are hefty!  The crust is so big, they have honey to add to the ends!  Their pizza is unique and worth a trip, but we like thin crust pizza, which was Old George’s style.  Recently, we went for lunch and noticed they’d won the best pizza in Story County for a number of years running.  I asked the lady behind the counter how long they’d won.  She said, she didn’t know, but as long as she was there.  The co-worker next to her said the same thing.  The lady behind me said, they’ve won every year since I worked here.  She was about 40 and if she worked at Great Plains in High School or college that’d be around 20 years.  If you are in Downtown Ames during the noon hour, give Great Plains a go.  They are a local college-town favorite and worth a trip on their own accord.

We’ve taken some suggestions from friends and also from the article in the Metromix on the Five Best Pizza places in the Des Moines area.  It was nice someone had already started the hunt.  We decided to check out those five, plus the Leaning Tower of Pizza, in Ankeny, from a friend who grew up in Ankeny and a receiver of the best pizza in Ankeny award 7 years in a row.  We’re also taking suggestions from you and others and our list of places to try keeps growing.  Before we started this hunt formally, we’d already eaten at The Tavern (They have 3 places in the Des Moines area.  We’ve been at the one in West Des Moines.) and Pagliai’s, both of which we’ve enjoyed.  But neither was able to stand up to Old George’s.  Would we have any luck?

This review will include the three places we’ve tried so far.  I hope, in the months ahead, to have a few other reviews.  We started with the Leaning Tower of Pizza, and the Wig and Pen (both in Ankeny) and Chuck’s Italian-American Restaurant (in northern Des Moines).  Both the Leaning Tower of Pizza and Chuck’s have a rich history in the area and are unique restaurants.  Wig and Pen is a newer place (four years), the original being out of Iowa City.

While we’re at it, if the Pizza place has onion rings and spaghetti, we’re checking those two items out also.  We’ve always ordered onion rings if a restaurant we visit makes their own and doesn’t just order them frozen from the factory.  The spaghetti story extends back to my childhood and going with my mom and dad as a little youngster to Di Napolis in downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue just a couple of blocks away from First Baptist Church where my mom and dad met as young people.  That first experience of spaghetti (one of my earliest memories) at Di Napolis has spoiled me for life and when Di Napolis went out of business a few years back, I’m in the hunt for spaghetti that matches that style.  In the Des Moines area, the closest I’ve found was Nana’s in Urbandale, which is now also out of business!  AHHH!

The first place we visited was the Leaning Tower of Pizza.  Right away we could tell it was a popular place.  We were there around 6 on a Friday night and the place was packed.  We got the last table and after us folk had to wait.  During dinner there was a constant stream of people stopping to pick up to-go pizzas, a good sign the pizza would be good.

The front of the Leaning Tower of Pizza in downtown Ankeny is unassuming, but the inside is warm, comfortable and very busy, which is understandable given it’s received the best pizza in Ankeny award for the last seven years by the Ankeny Register.

The pizza at The Leaning Tower of Pizza was very good, coming in 2nd of the 3 places we tried. We could see how it’s become a local favorite.

The same friend who recommended The Leaning Tower of Pizza also recommended another Ankeny establishment, Wig and Pen (just north of Oralabor Road on S. Ankeny Boulevard).  We asked our waitress where the name of the restaurant camp from and she said the name had to do with lawyers and writers in England and so has a British Theme.  Pizza from Britain?  Well, no.  We probed some more and she sent the own over to our table and she told us the original owners of the first store in Iowa City traveled to England a lot and had a ton of memorabilia from there and used it in their Iowa City restaurant.  The owner in Ankeny location said she was a U of Iowa grad and decided to start a Wig and Pen in Ankeny in hopes of attracting Hawkeye alumni who lived in the Des Moines area who had frequented the Iowa City Store.  The Ankeny location has been open four years now and seems to be doing well.

It has a sports bar atmosphere with posters from bygone eras in English history that are fun to look at in their own right.  But the big question was, how’s the pizza?

The menu had a lot of other things that looked worthy of our attention and we decided right away we’d be back to try some other things.  The article in Metromix recommended Wig and Pen for the best deep dish pizza in the Des Moines area.  We love original Deep Dish Pizza Chicago Style from our seminary days 35 years ago in Deerfield, Illinois.  Our favorite was Silo Pizza in Lake Bluff, only a few miles from Trinity where I attended seminary and from Highland Park where Mary Sue and I lived in the top floor of Mrs. Murphy’s house.  I just searched it on the internet and the Silo is still in business!  Woohoo!  We’ll have to get back there.  But we also liked the original deep dish pizza places in downtown Chicago, such as Gino’s East and Pizzeria Due.

But, alas, we were on a thin crust pizza hunt.  Wig and Pen serves both.  We came for the thin-crust.  We’ll be back for the deep dish.  And the pork tenderloin and a few other things on the menu that looked REALLY good.  In contrast with the Leaning Tower of Pizza the decor was new and had a sports bar feel, with several TV’s zeroed in on football games.

The Wig and Pen had the best onion rings of the three places we tried and also the best side salad. They didn’t have spaghetti and meatballs, so we didn’t try that. But with the medium pizza we had plenty to eat.

The pizza looked great, but had too much sauce, which drowned out the rest of the flavors. We bought sausage and onion pizza at all three establishments so we could compare apples to apples. The onions on the Wig and Pen thin crust pizza were grated which we’ve never had before and we decided we’d rather have the onions on the pizza sliced. Still, the onion rings were enough to convince us we needed to go back and try their deep dish pizza and several other things on the menu.

The third place we tried turned out to be our favorite for both thin crust pizza and spaghetti.  Chuck’s Italian-American Restaurant in north Des Moines reminded me the most of Di Napolis in Minneapolis.  Chuck’s has been around since the 1950’s and is a tradition now for several generations.  There were lots of things on the menu we would have loved to try, but we were zeroing in on thin crust pizza, spaghetti and onion rings.  We’ll be back to give it another go.

Chuck’s has been around since 1956 and the decor inside was a walk back in time. It was clean and the older decor gave it a homey feel. We got there around 5:30 on a Saturday night and by 6 PM it was hopping.

We favor the thin sliced onion rings of the Wig and Pen. These were little thicker but still very good.

Of the three sausage and onion pizzas we tried, this was by far our favorite. The crust was so crisp and just he right amount of sauce and cheese. Love the sausage. We’ll definitely be back.

Italian Spumoni Ice Cream? Yes! They had it available with these cute little cookies. What a treat. Spumoni is hard to find and brought back memories of eating a Di Napolis in downtown Minneapolis as a kid.

 Conclusions:

1. Looking for the best pizza, onion rings and spaghetti is a great dating idea and is a lot of fun to boot.  We’ve already scooped out other places to try and plan another blog about our hunt in the future.  It was interesting to discuss it.  We both agreed on our assessments, too.

2. The Best Thin Crust Sausage and Onion Pizza of the three: 1) Chuck’s; 2) Leaning Tower of Pizza; 3) Wig and Pen.

3. The Best Onion Rings: 1) Wig and Pen; 2) Chucks; 3) Leaning Tower of Pizza

4. Best Spaghetti: 1) Chucks; 2) Leaning Tower of Pizza, but we’re still on the hunt.

Special Kudos to:

Chucks, for reminding me the most of Di Napolis of Downtown Minneapolis.

Wig and Pen for the interesting British Decor.

Wig and Pen for the owner coming over and visiting with us at length about her restaurant.

Wig and Pen for the great onion rings AND a free coupon for a free order of rings on a return visit.

Chucks for the Spumoni Ice Cream.

Leaning Tower of Pizza for all the people and being part of a “happenin’ place.”

Chucks for being so good we could stop looking and just keep going back there.  But, alas, we’ll still continue our hunt….cuz it’s FUN!

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Check out Dr. Bing’s other dating ideas here.

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Dr. Bing Wall is a therapist specializing in marriage and relationships and issues facing single adults with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

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