It is a regional culinary treasure.
But during the decade I lived in the Quad-Cities, I never thought of the area’s pizza quite that way. Back then, it was just pizza. Really good pizza, mind you. But I didn’t realize how unique it was until I left the area in 1999.
Until relatively recently, it was only found in the bi-state region which consists of Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, I found myself hankering for that unique style of pizza. So, I decided to bake my own rendition.
The only problem is I’m not a baker. My kids would add, I’m not much of a cook either. My wife is more diplomatic saying I don’t tend to alternate my selections. (Hamburgers and sandwich ribeyes on Mondays, pork chops on Tuesdays, corn and sausage casserole on Wednesdays.)
That said, I used a recipe for Quad-City style sausage pizza that Roots Handmade Pizza shared with the Washington Post.
In 2011, Roots opened in Chicago specializing in Quad-City style pizza. Despite Chicago being a notoriously difficult restaurant market known for its own unique style of pizza, Roots has flourished and now has four Chicago locations.
“What makes Quad-City style pizza unique is that no one else puts malt in the crust,” explained Scott Weiner, co-owner of Roots.
So, the first challenge I faced was finding malt syrup. The grocery stores where I usually shop don’t carry it. But I was able to find it at a health-food store, Food Fantasies in Springfield. It’s also available on Amazon. Weiner said stores that specialize in providing home brewers with supplies are also good places to shop.
The malt syrup gives the crust a sweeter almost nutty taste.
Ideally, the crust should be about one-quarter of one inch thick. Try as I might I was not particularly successful on this front. When I tried to roll it out with a rolling pin, the dough tended to fall apart.
Yes, I know true pizza bakers throw the dough in the air. But considering I live with eight dogs, I refrained. I had visions of one snatching it mid toss.
After much effort, a bit of added water and some help from my 14-year-old daughter, we managed to spread the dough across two pizza stones. (Ultimately the crust came out about one-half-inch thick but tasted great.)
Ryan Mosley, a co-owner of Harris Pizza in the Quad-Cities, said another unique characteristic of Quad-City style pizza is that the toppings go under the cheese.
Weiner added that traditionally the pizza is cut in strips with scissors rather than in pie wedges or in squares.
“When you cut it in strips, you guarantee that everyone gets a piece of crust with each piece,” Weiner said.
Harris Pizza, Wise Guys, Roots and others are known for their sausage.
Weiner said he grinds the sausage once, seasons it and bakes it. He then grinds it a second time to make it extra crumbly. The sausage I used was good but not as good as that used by Harris Pizza.
That said, despite my novice baking skills, the pizzas came out well. My wife and three daughters asked that I make it again.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. [email protected]