Everything you knead to know about pizza

With Family Weekend just around the corner, Grinnellians and their families will be looking for lunch and dinner options. If Prairie Canary reservations are all booked up, there’s nothing better than the college food staple that has never disappointed: pizza. From higher-end pies to cheap on-the-go slices, The S&B reviews the variety of pizza joints Grinnell offers. *Prices do not include tax.

—Photos and reviews by Roni Finkelstein and Carl Sessions

Pizza Ranch:

BEST FOR: Ordering pies for a party or group activity, or for those nights when one pie just simply isn’t enough.  Delivery service available.

Pizza Ranch, located at 613 West St. S., is a bit far for students without wheels, but nonetheless provides a trusty and speedy delivery service. The restaurant itself is adorned like an old western drama, complete with posters of cowboys, prayers and horseshoes tacked on the walls. Customers can decide to either stay for a buffet meal with a plethora of pizza options (including desert pizza) along with unlimited crispy fried chicken, or call ahead of time for delivery or pick-up. The buffet, which costs $8.09 for lunch and $9.29 for dinner and weekends, includes an all-you-can-eat adventure of western-themed pizza, including the “Roundup” (beef, pepperoni, Italian sausage, onions, mushrooms and black olives), the popular “Sweet Swine” (Canadian bacon and pineapple) and for vegetarians, the “Prairie” (mushrooms, onions, black and green olives and green peppers). Gluten-free options are also available. However, if buffet-goers don’t see their preferred type of pizza being offered, they can request it to be made that meal.

THE PIZZA: At $6, the small Prairie pie on regular crust comes out warm with oozing cheese. The smattering of tomato sauce is on the heavy side, but its texture compliments the consistency of the onions and the olives, enveloping them in a thick blanket of well-seasoned sauce. There is no skimping on cheese, and its flavor is more complex than other pizzas reviewed. It has hints of parmesan and Romano, along with classic mozzarella.

Casey’s General Store:

BEST FOR: A cheap slice while filling up your tank. Delivery service available.

Casey’s has long held its post at 1718 6th Ave. as a stable carry-out pizza establishment. The store itself is multipurpose, housing a gas station, convenience store and pizza joint. There is a limited selection of single slices for sale in a heated rotating display, including veggie, sausage, beef, pepperoni and spicy sausage. Full pie carry-out options are more robust, with choices like “Meat Galore” (pepperoni, ham, beef and mild or hot sausage), “Taco” (refried beans, salsa, beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and nacho chips) and even breakfast pizzas topped with eggs and cheese. If you’re not interested in its specialty pizzas, a single topping with cheese pizza costs $8.99 for a small, $10.49 for a medium, and $11.99 for a large. Unfortunately, there is nowhere in the establishment to sit down and enjoy your pizza. Additionally, the store does not offer gluten-free options. However,  Casey’s not only takes call-ahead orders that will be warm and ready for you upon arrival, but also delivers every day from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

THE PIZZA: It costs $2.19 for a ready-made slice of veggie pizza complete with peppers, onions and mushrooms. The crust itself is fluffier than other pizzas from Grinnell pizza joints, but doesn’t have very much flavor itself. This slice has the least amount of sauce—which might be a plus for those who don’t like tomatoes. Regardless, Casey’s slice is a filling option for those running low on cash.

Michael’s:

BEST FOR: A sit-down meal for pizza and various types of Italian food. Delivery services available.

Michael’s, located at 720 5th Ave., holds the spot as Grinnell’s classic family-owned Italian restaurant. As a sit-down establishment, the homey atmosphere is casual and comfortable. Its pizza menu is extensive but restricted—it sells individual slices and pies during lunch but only full pies during dinner. However, it only sells gluten-free options in small-sized pies. The rest of the menu at Michael’s features entrees like chicken parmesan and fettuccine alfredo in addition to a host of classic deli and Italian sandwiches and salads. Michael’s does offer delivery services Mondays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., but its close proximity to campus makes it easy to stop by and pick up a few pizzas for a dinner party. Its prices reflect its status as a small, family owned restaurant.

THE PIZZA: A single slice here actually comes as two small slices and costs $4.25 (but $3.50 on Mondays for a slice of the special). The plain slice comes with a layer of unidentified meat underneath the cheese—be wary, vegetarians. The smoky flavor of the meat compliments the thickly laid cheese and there is an average amount of well-seasoned tomato sauce. For just a slice, it’s a bit on the pricey side considering its competition. For meat-eaters Michael’s is a nice option for a sit-down meal—just don’t bring your vegetarian friends here.

Pagliai’s Pizza:

BEST FOR: Perfect for families and friends wanting to enjoy quality-tasting pizza in a restaurant setting or for the on-the-go student picking up pre-ordered pies. Unfortunately, delivery service is not available.

Upon entering Pagliai’s Pizza (pronounced PAH-LI-IES), located at 816 5th Ave., one is immediately struck by the dark atmosphere, cozy booths, wooden walls and mood lighting. Past the bowl full of complementary mints and cash register spans the pizza assembly line and imposing, sleek silver ovens. As you pass by Grinnell families talking over 70s-diner style Pepsi glasses, you will see an employee in an all-white uniform gracefully slide steaming pizza pies from the ovens.

In this classic diner atmosphere, tucked into an overstuffed booth, you consult a menu that features $20 large specialty pizzas, $8 Italian Steak sandwiches and $1.50 bruschetta. This is a time to stick to the pizza, which Pagliai’s website says is based upon “family recipes” that Katrina and John Pagliai took with them when they traveled from northern Italy to Zookspur, Iowa in 1914.

If you’re in the mood for more meat, the house special has enough to fill an artery: piles of sausage, beef and pepperoni. But the restaurant is also very accommodating: its margherita pesto pizza is vegetarian-friendly and they offer gluten-free crusts.

THE PIZZA: Whether or not the recipes are really the same as they were 100 years ago, the pizza is undeniably good. I ordered a small pepperoni pesto pizza for $5 with its student discount (offered through the end of September) and picked it up 30 minutes later. The crust is thin and crisp, and the pesto is spread in a thin layer underneath the cheese to make it taste like a well-seasoned focaccia. A healthy amount of feta is melted across juicy, robust tomatoes, olives and banana peppers. The salty and succulent pepperoni creates harmony with the robust feta to wow the tongue. It is incredibly satisfying to eat, and because the crust is thin you can stuff piece after piece in your mouth without feeling too full.

Kum & Go:

BEST FOR: The advantages of going to Kum & Go to get pizza over a sit-down restaurant like Pagliai’s or Michael’s are the speed and ease of transaction. Great for a cheap generic slice of pizza anytime (Kum & Go is open 24 hours).

If you’re looking for late night grub on a Saturday night, for example, walking to the back of Kum & Go (located at 1002 West St.) is much easier than ordering and waiting 20 minutes for a nicer pizza at Pagliai’s. There is also the added convenience of purchasing a donut or candy bar to accompany your meal. The best time to get pizza at Kum & Go is Wednesday, when slices are a dollar. You can also call in to order pizzas by the pie. A sign outside advertised a large Chipotle Bacon Chicken Ranch Pizza for $15. I imagine that if you bought this and it was warm, it would be more satisfying than the slices.

THE PIZZA: The pizza is nearly always available, but it’s not guaranteed to be very warm. There also isn’t a lot of selection—when I went, the only slices were sausage and pepperoni. A slice costs $1.99, but you can get a free fountain drink if you buy two slices. The slice is greasy and looks a little gross, but the taste is not unpleasant. The most glaring shortfall is the crust, which, far from being crisp, is slightly spongy and chewy. The cheese is generic and tasteless and there isn’t a lot of sauce—probably for the best, considering how sweet it is. These bland elements allow the flavor of the meat to really shine through. When you buy a slice from Kum & Go, be prepared to viscerally experience the sensation of semi-warm meat on your tongue. The sausage is fatty but flavorful enough to make the piece worth the money.

The Marketplace (D-hall):

BEST FOR: All-you-can-eat great-tasting pizza that has a lot of flavor variety and is the most easily accessible pizza on campus.

It’s easy to take D-hall pizza for granted. After you have eaten it numerous times per week for a couple years, the inventive toppings and crispy crust begin to lose some of their novelty. But if you can bring yourself to enter a state of “beginner’s mind,” you will be refreshingly surprised at how good it is every time you dig in. However, D-Hall pizza is always on point. This is probably due to the talented pizza artists that crank them out by the dozen without forsaking an element of fine craftsmanship.

If you have a meal plan, the only real downside to going to the D-Hall to get your pizza fix is being surrounded by hundreds of other Grinnellians who are trying to do the same thing. Other than that, the main deterrent that folks seem to have about the pizza is that its constant availability makes it seem mundane. This can be combatted by treating the pizza experience as a hallowed event that demands attention to the present.

THE PIZZA:  My favorite variety offered would have to be the margherita pizza, with chunks of tomatoes, globs of mozzarella and delicate strips of basil. The oven is vital to the flavor of the slice, producing the always-crispy, never-burned crust that develops large bubbles over the course of cooking. One great thing about Dining Hall pizza is the constantly-rotating varieties that are offered. Some weeks are more inventive, like crispy falafel on a puffy crust. Because the D-Hall often administers taste surveys, any pizza that was tried but not liked will probably not be offered again—meaning that when you go to the D-Hall you can expect that whatever’s coming out of the pizza oven will be delicious.

Hours:

Pizza Ranch: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Michael’s: Monday-Sunday 11 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., 5 – 8:30 p.m.

Casey’s General Store: Monday-Sunday 6 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Pagliai’s Pizza: Monday-Thursday 5 – 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5 – 11 p.m., Sunday 5 -10 p.m.

Kum & Go: Open 24 hours

Grinnell College Marketplace Dining Hall: Monday-Thursday 7 a.m. – 8 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday 9 -10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., 5 – 7 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., 5 – 7 p.m.