You may consider yourself a pizza polyglot if you’re versed in Chicago’s deep dish, conversant in Detroit square pies and fluent in New Haven apizza. But if you’ve never heard of Quad Cities pizza, you’re missing a big piece of the pizza lexicon.
The Quad Cities are a region along the Illinois/Iowa border comprising the towns of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois (yes, we know that’s actually five cities: go figure). Quad Cities residents have quietly enjoyed a signature pizza style for over 60 years that’s unknown to most of the rest of America.
That’s changing, though. Quad Cities-style pizzerias are cropping up outside the Quad Cities, with the signature pies now serving Chicago and the Twin Cities. It may make its way to your town soon, so learn what makes it special now and become your local Quad Cities pizza expert.
The dough is molded into circles and stretched thin, unlike most of the pies from other Midwest areas like Chicago and Detroit. It also contains molasses and malt syrup, giving it a beautiful brown color even after just a short stint in the oven. These ingredients lend a nutty and slightly sweet flavor to the foundation of the pizza.
Unlike most of the tomato sauces on American pizzas, the Quad City style this doesn’t contain much sugar. What it does do is bring the heat. Spicy red pepper in the tangy sauce juxtaposes the slightly sweet, nutty crust for a one-two punch to your palate.
Sausage and cheese are the signature quad city toppings and they’re layered on in that order. Just like in Detroit, the spicy fennel sausage goes on before the cheese. Tradition calls for a generous douse so that little—if any—sauce stays visible. Mozzarella is placed over the sausage and this, too, should cover the underlayer of sausage so the whole pie swims in cheese.
Finally, the pizza is cut with shears into strips. None of those fancy special pizza cutters for these pie slingers. Legend says pizza was once a novelty in the region and pizza makers made do with what was around. Today, it’s one of the style’s signature characteristics.