Not only have you probably not heard of this pizza style, you may not have even heard of the region it comes from: the Quad Cities. To add to the confusion, the Quad Cities are actually made up of five cities (not four) that straddle the Iowa-Illinois border across the Mississippi River: Davenport and Bettendorf in Southeastern Iowa, plus Rock Island, Moline and East Moline in Northwestern Illinois. Now on to the pizza.
Quad Cities-style pizza is a round pizza with a thin crust that has a toasty sweetness to it — often due to the addition of malt to the dough — and the sauce is zesty with a hint of spice. The most popular topping is a fennel-inflected sausage that’s layered (heavily) under a blanket of cheese. That’s right, toppings go under the cheese in this pizza style.
“It’s a pizza that’s kind of made backwards: it’s sauce, the toppings, and then that’s topped with cheese,” says Ryan Mosley of Quad Cities beloved Harris Pizza.
Aside from the ingredients, the way Quad Cities-style pizza is cut is also unique to the region: it’s cut into long, thin strips (different than the squares of a Midwest “party-cut”) that allow for a bit of crust to be on the edge of each strip, with the four corner slices being mostly crust. According to Mosley, these four slices are often fought over. Adding to the oddness, the strips are traditionally cut with a pair of scissors.
At Harris, which opened in 1960, the pizzas were originally cut with blueprint shears, which have especially long blades. Nowadays blueprint shears are not easy to find. “We contacted the manufacturer of the original blueprint shears we had and asked if we could custom make a pair of scissors,” says Mosley. “He was skeptical, but now I own a mold for those scissors. So I actually have, well now they’re called pizza shears — custom-made pizza shears.”
Harris Pizza and Frank’s Pizza are the two oldest pizzerias in the region (Frank’s opened in 1955), and they both lay claim to inventing the unique pizza style. Harris, which has copyrighted the slogan, “The original Quad Cities style pizza,” opened in Rock Island, Ill., by Leonard and Mary Harris. Ryan Mosley is their grandson. “At the time, in the late ’50s, pizza in our area was not a very well known item,” says Mosley. He credits his grandparents with bringing pizza to the region. Harris Pizza now has four locations in the Quad Cities region.
The Quad Cities pizza community is small, and some of the current pizza shops were started by former employers of Harris or Frank’s. For example, Clint Doran, who worked for Harris Pizza for 25 years, opened Clint’s Draft House Pizza & Grill in Moline, Ill., in 1993. And while it’s difficult to find true Quad Cities-style pizza outside of the Quad Cities, Greg Mohr, a Rock Island, Ill., native, brought it to Chicago with Roots, which now boasts two Windy City locations. Of course, Mosley insists none of Harris Pizza’s many imitators can make a pizza as good as his.
“I’ve never given the recipe away,” he says. “The sauce, dough and meat flavoring is not going to be the same. Are they getting close? Yeah, they’re getting close… they’re all trying to be like us.”
We say, the more pizza the better.