served the first restaurant pizza in Iowa
Pizza is a flat out contradiction — a "fast
food" that can take hours to prepare; a
"pie" we eat as a main course; and
a relatively "new" food that's old
as civilization. Really, 4,000 years ago Babylonians,
Israelites and Egyptians were all cooking flat
unleavened breads in mud ovens. Greeks, Romans
and Egyptians were topping them with olive oil
and native spices before the birth of Christ.
Yet the world's first pizzeria, Naple's "Port'Alba,"
didn't open until 1830. Another 75 years would
pass before America's first pizzeria, Lombardi's
Napoletana, opened in New York City. The dish
didn't catch on beyond Italian neighborhoods
though until World War II (WW II) when Naples
became a major base of operations for American
forces and G.I.'s came home craving pizza.
Most Italians who settled on the south side
of Des Moines also came from pizza loving southern
Italy (Il Mezzodi) — Calabria, Puglia and Sicily.
By the end of WW II, sons and daughters of Calabria
dominated the Des Moines restaurant scene. One
of them, Noah Lacona, personally designed a
gas oven that simulated the wood-burning ovens
of southern Italy and a pie-making machine that
duplicated Neapolitan crusts. By 1947, Noah
was serving the first pizza in Iowa at Noah's
In just a few years, pizza became a craze here.
By the end of the 1960s, people were arguing
about who made the best pizza in town. Those
arguments gained momentum over time, with no
clear verdict. All food arguments are necessarily
subjective. After all, every human has a unique
combination of 2,000 to 8,000 "taste buds,"
each of which can be more or less sensitive
from one tongue to another. Taste buds change
as we age, too. For instance, balding humans
almost always experience "balding"
(less sensitive) taste buds.
It takes a consensus to settle food arguments.
So, Cityview is following up last year's Ultimate
Sandwich Tournament with an Ultimate Pizza Challenge.
Last year, more than 4,000 people voted for
their favorite sandwich. We think even more
people have strong opinions about pizza. The
Challenge works sort of like "American
Idol." A few food judges winnow the field
to a manageable number. We wanted a nice bracket-friendly
number — 32. Like "Idol" judges though,
we couldn't limit ourselves and ended up with
42 unique styles of pizza making.
Many are old school Calabrese. At least four
of them — Gusto, Noah's, Bambino's and Mama
Lacona's — are owned by descendents of Teresa
Lacona. La Pizza House might well be the second
oldest pizza maker in Iowa. Bordenaro's, Orlondo's,
Chuck's, Centro, Christopher's, Sam & Gabe's,
Scornovacca's, Baratta's and Polito's all trace
their roots to the southside or Mezzodi traditions.
Bagni di Lucca has a Tuscan connection, as does
Leaning Tower of Pizza. Paglia's roots are in
northern Italy. Others with long histories are
associated with a specific style of pie — Felix
& Oscar's, Paradise and The Tavern.
Others are pan Italian. El Chisme features
their superb Mexican meats, Fong's offers Chinese
American verve. Simon's features smokehouse
meats. Some hail from fine dining establishments
that also make trendy pizza like Dish, Kirkwood
Lounge, Court Avenue Brewing Company, Chef's
Kitchen, Marino's and Cosi Cucina. Others are
pretty much famous for pizza and not much else
— Big Tomato, Flour, Coach's, Beaverdale, Paesano's,
Angelo's and Adriatic.
Some are rather new — NYC Pizza, Fia's and
Rock Power. Three — Boston's, Sam & Louie's
and Red Rossa — are chains, yet through excellence,
they overcame the baggage that category usually
has for the foodies upon whom we rely on for
judgments such as this.
So there's your field. The first round of voting
will last three weeks, to name the top 16 pizzas
in town. Additional rounds of voting will reduce
that to the top eight, then four, and finally
Des Moines' Ultimate Pizza.
Paradise Pizza is about to become Paradise
Italian Grill, under new ownership, with a new
lounge addedÉ Joyce Larson of New Market won
the state fair's fruit pie blue ribbon with
a lard crust six berry (hand grown) slice of
genius, see foodude.twitter.com for recipe.