What Makes Quad City-Style Pizza Unique?

Not only does Quad City-style pizza taste a little different, but it also looks a little different. Quad City-style pizza is the epitome of a microregional food, so don't be surprised if you haven't heard of it before.

This style of pizza is enjoyed in an area where Illinois and Iowa meet along the Mississippi River. Located about two-and-a-half hours west of Chicago, the area known as Quad Cities includes Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Moline, Rock Island, and East Moline in Illinois. While people outside of this area may never have heard of Quad City-style pizza, it has been a favorite among locals since the mid-20th century. Fennel sausage and a slightly spicy sauce are important characteristics of Quad City-style pizza, as well as a handmade crust with a slightly nutty taste. 

The good news is that even if you don't live near the Quad Cities, making this style of pizza at home is totally possible.

It all started with two Italian brothers

The exact origin of the Quad City-style pizza is a little hazy, but what is clear is that the Maniscalco family made it popular in the mid-1950s. During their lives, brothers Frank and Tony Maniscalco, who immigrated to the United States from Italy, opened several restaurants, one of which is still open: Frank's Club Napoli Pizza in Silvis, Illinois. With Italian cooking in their blood, the two brothers opened separate restaurants that served pizza in the Quad Cities. Leading the way was Tony, who served Quad City-style pizza at the Paddock Club in Rock Island, Illinois. Frank followed with Tony's Pizza in Davenport, Iowa. At that time, pizza was a little-known meal, so residents of the Quad Cities had little else to compare to what they were eating at the Maniscalco restaurants to other types of pizza. Pizza served by the Maniscalcoes was based on a family recipe, and it's that signature pizza that made their restaurants local destinations.  

The Quad City style of pizza began to be duplicated at other area restaurants, especially by former employees of the Maniscalco brothers. Several restaurants stay true to the original, including Fat Jack's in Peoria, Illinois, which is owned by Mark Mannen, who worked with the Maniscalco family and says he bought the original recipes from the family. While the Quad City-style pizza has stayed primarily regional, QC Pizza west of Minneapolis claims to be the only maker of that style of pizza in Minnesota. 

Unique ingredients, unique slices

From how its crust is made to how it's cut, the Quad City pizza is unique. First off, Quad City-style pizza can credit its darker crust to an unusual ingredient — malt syrup — that provides color and a slightly nutty flavor. Some pizzerias also add molasses to the crust, which is hand-tossed and about a ¼ of an inch thick.

In fact, the whole pizza looks a little different than the standard pizza found around the United States. First off, in the Quad Cities, pizza is made with toppings buried under a dense layer of mozzarella cheese. While toppings can be whatever you want (from pepperoni to bacon), it's crumbled fennel sausage that is the classic meat used for Quad City-style pie, which provides part of the pie's quintessential flavor. If that's not enough uniqueness, the sauce also stands out from others. Made with a red tomato sauce, the pizza sauce for the microregional pizza also has red pepper flakes and ground cayenne to add some spice. Additionally, the sauce is also smooth versus chunky in texture. 

To the unaccustomed, how the Quad City-style pizza is cut may seem kind of bizarre. No need for a traditional pizza cutter with a wheel. For this unique pizza, you need custom-made pizza shears that cut the pie like large scissors.

How to make Quad City-style pizza at home

If you live nowhere near the Quad Cities, you can still enjoy the unique style of pizza by making it at home. Making the pizza starts with the crust, which needs to be made from scratch to have that quintessential Quad City-style pizza taste. A recipe for the crust from The Washington Post calls for instant yeast, malt syrup, bread flour, oregano, and paprika. Different recipes include dry malt flour (also known as malted wheat flour), bread flour, brown sugar, and dry yeast. To make the sauce at home, combine tomato paste, tomato puree, crushed red pepper seed, ground oregano, and minced garlic. That oregano also typically makes an appearance at the end of the pizza-making process when it is sprinkled on top after cooking the pie.

Fennel is an essential part of the sausage topping for this flavorful pizza. Simply sprinkle it onto the cooked and crumbled sausage and mix. As the pizza is assembled, the sauce goes down first (and traditionally in a thin layer), followed by the sausage or other meat or vegetable toppings, and then topped with mozzarella or a blend of cheeses before being baked. All that's left is to cut the pizza into its signature long slices and let your taste buds enjoy the complex flavors of your homemade Quad City-style pizza.