I have heard it said that pizza is like sex: even when it’s bad, it’s good and when it’s good, it’s amazing. I tend to agree. I’ve had slices from school cafeterias, gas stations, bars, food trucks, mall food courts and upscale pizzerias — and I’d eat every one of them again. Pizza is never a mistake.
Pizza is also one of my partner’s and my “fallback foods” for those days when we’ve had the same “What do you want to eat?” “I don’t know” conversation 16 times and know that it may end in breakup or bloodshed if we have it again. We were both already slightly hangry when we started trying to decide what to have for dinner last night, so after the fourth or fifth “I don’t know” I decided to order pizza while we still loved each other.
As with many other foods, I have standard pizza toppings that I tend to return to repeatedly: sausage and/or pepperoni, maybe mushrooms, maybe some artichokes or fresh basil if I’m feeling adventurous. The question with pizza is whether we’re in the mood for a classic, simple interpretation or something a little different. We decided to depart from old standbys and try something new and a little unusual this time, so we ordered from Marquee Pizzeria.
Marquee opened in Coralville’s Iowa River Landing in 2017. The concept is described as “Neapolitan meets New York,” and the pizzas are cooked in an imported Italian 90-degree, wood-fired oven that can cook a pizza in as little as 90 seconds.
Most importantly for me, many of their pizzas fit my favored category of “familiar with a twist.” We ordered the Falco, Grandma’s Hands and Vice City, all of which featured at least one of my habitual toppings, plus at least one ingredient unique to these particular pies.
Grandma’s Hands was the closest to pizzas I’ve had before with just three ingredients: sauce, pepperoni and cheese. The twists came from both the pepperoni and the cheese. The slices of pepperoni — referred to on the menu as “Iowa pepperoni” — were about two-thirds the size of those you usually see on pizza and were spicier and smokier than any pepperoni I’ve had before. They were also a bit thicker cut and chewier. A subtle, but significant, difference. The pizza has two cheeses: mozzarella and caciocavallo (fun fact, the name means “cheese on horseback,” due to how it’s dried: two teardrop-shaped forms tied together straddling a board). I had never previously heard of or tasted caciocavallo. It was a bit firmer than the mozzarella, with a similar amount of stretch and an earthier, more complex flavor. Both the pepperoni and cheese created a depth and complexity of flavor on what could have been a one-note pizza.
The next step up in complexity was the Falco. It was topped with sausage, red onion, breadcrumbs, fresh basil and garlic and parmigiano cheese. Still pretty classic, but the sweetness of the red onion, the bite of fresh garlic and the salt and nuttiness of the cheese elevated the flavors of this simple combo. Additionally, since parmigiano is a harder cheese than mozzarella, it added a lot of flavor while taking up less space and mouthfeel than cheese typically does on a pizza. This kept the textures and flavors of the breadcrumbs, garlic and basil from being overshadowed.
Vice City was the biggest departure from the norm. It was topped with smoked mozzarella, parmigiano, sausage, pepperoni, green onion, pickled pepper sauce and hot honey. This was Mike’s suggestion, and I was skeptical. For one thing, I didn’t know what either hot honey or a pickled pepper sauce would taste like individually, let alone together and in combination with the other toppings. I also believe that putting sweet ingredients on pizza is a cardinal sin. I figured that this pizza would either taste strange, or one flavor would dominate all the others.
I could not have been more wrong. This was our favorite by far. The many toppings created a nuanced and complex flavor so that no one ingredient stood out and none were overpowered. The honey and pepper sauce played off each other beautifully and created a lightly sweet spiciness unlike anything I’ve ever had.
On top of this, the pizzas all featured the hallmarks of wood-fired pizza: a crust that is both crunchy and chewy, delicious in its own right, with ingredients that stay slightly more intact and retain more of their texture and brightness of flavor due to the speed with which they’re cooked.
Marquee was up against the fond memories and high standards of some treasured Cedar Rapids-area establishments — Need, Cappy’s and Zoey’s to name a few — and it held its own against them. The Vice City in particular is a dish designed to create cravings. And since pizza is always a good idea, I plan to indulge in Marquee’s offerings often.
Presented by Chomp
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This article was originally published in Little Village issue 294.