April 18, 2024

Best I Ever Had: Pizza

Let’s start with this: Pizza is damn delicious and worthy of all the praise possible. Thus, for the the second installment of Best I Ever Had, it only made sense to celebrate the pizza in all its various forms. And it has many. Acting as a vessel for both unique and simple flavor combinations, a good pizza can change your life.

With that in mind, the TGS crew dug deep into the world of sauce and cheese, coming out the other side with their takes on the Best Pizza We Ever Had. Enjoy.

Dana Melcher – “Crab Rangoon Flatbread” from Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery in Spring Valley, Minnesota

While I’m a total sucker for traditional greasy pizza (I’m lookin’ at you Papa Johns, and your delectable garlic butter), this non-traditional pizza knocked my socks off.

This crispy flatbread loaded with crab, sweet and sour sauce, cream cheese, fried wontons, scallion and cilantro is one the best meals that $14 can get you. Although they suggest you pair it with a white wine, it was even more enjoyable with the winery’s own Loon Juice, specifically their strawberry shandy hard cider.

The atmosphere adds to the already amazing culinary experience. You can devour the delightful flatbread while enjoying live music, taking in the beautiful view of the vineyard and even hearing about the winery’s history when the owner stops by your table to chat.

As a lifelong Iowan, I am resistant to the traditions that Minnesotans live for. (There is no such thing as a gray duck.) However, when it comes to the amazingly unique flatbread, crisp Loon Juice, beautiful views and personable atmosphere, these Minnesotans know exactly what they’re doing.

J.T. Nutt – Sausage/Cheese from Harris Pizza in the Quad Cities, Iowa. 

Harris Pizza is so good I drive out of my way every time I go to Chicago to have a pie. It has been a staple in the Quad Cities for decades. My mom grew up on Harris Pizza, and we always made a stop on our trip back for 4th of July and Thanksgiving. A new version of Harris just opened in West Des Moines called Home Town Pizza. It’s just a delicious. Harris’ best pizzas are their cheese or their sausage. Their delicious crumby-style sausage is put underneath the cheese, and they don’t skimp on it.

I also still love the plain cheese. Their cheese is really what sets the pizza apart from every other pizza I’ve ever had. The crust and sauce are great. It’s cut into strips, which is easy to share. We used to take a half baked pizza to be frozen home every time we went to the Quad Cities. Three hours of that smell was great, which is not something I typically say about food in my car for three hours. With Home Town pizza opening up less than a few miles from my house, I thankfully don’t need to do that any more. You cannot find a better pizza on the planet.

Jake Ohlde – “White (Cheese) Pizza” from Downtown House of Pizza in Ft. Myers, FL

I’d like to preface this by stating that I typically cannot stand plain cheese pizza – which makes it that much more amazing that the best pizza I’ve ever had was, indeed, the white slice from DHP. The only reason I came to try this masterpiece was because we entered the place toward the end of the lunch hour, and it was the only kind still available. I was skeptical at first, but once I took my first bite, I was sold. The ricotta and mozzarella cheese mix seamlessly together alongside the perfect amount of garlic and oil for a scrumptious taste that leaves you craving for more. We ended up going back the next day to test out the rest of the menu, but while most of it was still impressive (including the desserts) – nothing quite reached the level of the plain white. The slices are New York style, so they’re relatively large and well worth the price. DHP is a popular location as well, as it sits in Ft, Myers’ bar district and is a common hangout for FGCU (Florida Gulf Coast) students, among others. This is definitely a can’t-miss experience if you’re in the area.

Spencer Hughes – “Carmen” from Sauce on the Side in St. Louis, Missouri

OK, full disclosure: This isn’t technically pizza. It’s a calzone from a calzone restaurant. But I’m going to channel my inner Ben Wyatt from Parks & Recreation here because these delicate little dough pockets are worth it.

With three locations in the St. Louis area, Sauce on the Side is an absolute must-stop for pizza and calzone lovers alike. They have a wide variety of fresh ingredients – way more than your usual pizza joint – and they offer house-made dipping sauces, ranging from old standards like spicy red and meat sauce to more unique offerings like buffalo butter and BBQ ranch.

Everything I’ve had here is excellent, but one calzone stands above the rest: the Carmen. This calzone consists of prosciutto, capicola, and spinach wrapped up with a melty three-cheese blend: parmesan, fontina, and ricotta. It’s drizzled with garlic oil and served with garlic butter for dipping (Go ahead and also get a red sauce for dipping to make it more pizza-y, if you like). It simply doesn’t get much more Italian than that. Plus, at only $10, you can go back again and again without breaking the bank.

I’m a big fan of pizza (If someone isn’t, I don’t think I’d trust them), and I can’t remember the last time I so much as ordered a calzone… other than here. So take my word  when I say that the Carmen calzone from Sauce on the Side is the best pizza I ever had.

Alex Gookin – “Famous Stuffed Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza” from Giordano’s in Chicago, Illinois

Pizza is maybe the most universally loved food on the planet. It’s versatile, easily customized, and, at its core, very simple. So picking the best pizza I’ve ever had is a little bit like a parent picking their favorite child—it’s impossible because there is so much to love about each one of them. To further complicate things, each one is so different and lovable in different ways that it seems unfair to choose just one. But I have to, so I’m going to ruffle some feathers in the process. The best pizza I’ve ever had was a Chicago-style deep dish pizza at Giordano’s—one of Chicago’s most iconic pizza joints that has turned into a regional powerhouse. There are two reasons this is controversial: Some claim Chicago-style pizza is not pizza at all, and Giordano’s has become a chain restaurant, which often means bland, processed, not-made-with-love food.

Screw it—good food is good food.

Giordano’s is known for being a pioneer in stuffed deep dish pizza, and if you haven’t had stuffed deep dish pizza, do it as soon as possible. The pizza was made practically in front of us as we bellied up to the bar at Navy Pier on a hot day with good beer (the memories surrounding the best food you eat are as important as the food itself). It was the perfect combination of buttery crust, thick layers of pepperoni, an absurd amount of melty and stringy cheese, topped with a crushed tomato sauce. Is it traditional pizza? Not even close. Hell, it’s not even traditional Chicago-style pizza. But if you ever want the ultimate and most filling version of crust, cheese, pepperoni, and sauce you’ve ever had, now you know where to go.

Pete Seibert – “Honey Garlic Pizza” from Fong’s Pizza in Des Moines, IA

As a life-long Central Iowan, when it comes to pizza, there’s only one place that comes to my mind: Fong’s Pizza. Now a Des Moines staple in the pizza industry, Fong’s has some of the most unique pizzas one can find, and they make my FAVORITE pizza of all time. This was a real Sophie’s choice for me, but I’d have to go with the Honey Garlic pizza over their Crab Rangoon. There is something about the simplicity of it that makes it that much better. Four ingredients make this pizza so damn good. Alfredo sauce, fresh garlic, honey & mozzarella. That’s it. It might sound boring, but good lord those flavors coming together on that initial bite. WOW. For an extra kick, add some sweet chili sauce on the pizza as well!

Also, once you finish your honey garlic pizza, try the crab rangoon because it is amazing as well. Don’t take my word for it, ask Food Network’s Alton Brown:

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Jason Mitchell 65 Articles
Staff Writer

Jason grew up in Iowa but couldn't bring himself to like Iowa or Iowa State. Instead, he married a Cornhusker. Jason has taught junior high, high school, and college English but is now a stay-at-home dad to four kids. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of reality shows and 1990s professional wrestling.

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