Quad Cities-style Pizza: Explained

As a Quad Cities transplant I didn’t grow up on Quad Cities-style pizza, but over the past 20 years I’ve become a big fan. As much as I love a good Chicago deep dish or a Brooklyn/New York wood-fired thin crust, there is nothing like a taco pizza from Harris Pizza when you’re craving the best!

What makes a pizza a Quad Cities-style pizza? The cut, the way it’s put together, the sauce, the crust, the sausage, and the kind.

The Cut
Quad Cities-style pizza is cut in long, thin, (mostly) rectangular strips. The corners, of course, are sort of triangles and often the most fought over pieces. Many QC pizza places offer just two size options: small and large. The pizza is cut by special custom made pizza shears.

You can see the official pizza shears in action cutting the Quad Cities-style pizza slices.

The Way It’s Put Together
The toppings are put under the cheese. Say what? For traditional kinds such as pepperoni, sausage, garden, etc. the layers are: crust, sauce, toppings (meat, veggies, etc), and THEN a heavy layer of mozzarella cheese. Adam Kuban from Serious Eats explains: “it looks like they thoroughly mix in the sausage among the sauce and cheese — almost like some sort of lasagna crazy quilt.”

If you think about a typical frozen pizza, the toppings are mostly on top…in fact, you can usually move or remove them if you need to. You can’t really do this in a QC style pizza as the cheese locks in all the tasty goodness of the toppings…or well, not-on-the-top-ings.

The Sauce
It’s a red tomato sauce, is often spiced up with red pepper flakes and ground cayenne, and it has been called “zesty,” “spicy,” and “smooth, rather than chunky.”

The Crust
Quad Cities-style pizza crust is usually hand-tossed and lands at about a quarter-inch thick. So, not what most would consider thin crust, but not a deep dish pizza either. Many say the crust has a “nutty kind of sweetness” or “malty” flavor and is a softer crust overall. Some shops in the Quad Cities add molasses to the crust for look and flavor. Some pie places use a malt syrup which gives the crust a unique taste. It’s yumminess is one reason the corner pieces are so coveted. Here’s a sample recipe to replicate the Quad Cities-style crust.

The Sausage
Not every Quad Cities-style pizza has sausage, but if it does, it’s made with crumble sausage and a lot of it! The sausage is typically very lean Italian pork sausage that is sometimes ground twice! It usually has fennel seeds in it.  This meat topping usually covers the pizza almost like a layer of tiny meat crumbles.

The Kind
What kind of pizza? All the usual: sausage, cheese, pepperoni, extra meat, veggie, and a bunch of unusual toppings such as sauerkraut and roast beef, but by far our favorite is Taco Pizza.

In my family, when we get pizza, we get Taco. Every. Time.

This Quad Cities-style type of pizza is so remarkable it HAS to be tasted to be believed. So, what is it? Basically a pizza turned into a taco: dough, sauce, refried beans, spiced-up meat, and cheese. Then, once it’s been cooked, the pie is topped with lettuce, tomatoes and (this part is amazing!) Doritos chips. Most people eat it with taco sauce drizzled over the top. The story goes that the taco pizza was invented by Happy Joe’s Joe Whitty as shared in this 2018 Quad City Times article by Brian Wellner.

Where did the combination of unique characteristics that make up a true Quad Cities-style pizza come from?
Well, there seems to be some dispute but Mark Mannen from Fat Jack’s Pizza suggests it was two Italian brothers named Frank and Tony Maniscalco. He shares the story in a June 2017 issue of PMQ: Pizza Magazine. While Wikipedia’s Quad City-style pizza definition is based on a combination of volunteer contributors, it does seem to corroborate Mr. Mannen’s story.

Regardless of how it happened, we can all be grateful for the genius pizza-making minds that brought us these amazingly tasty, “crazy lasagna quilt,” and chip pizzas.

Where’s the best place to get a Quad Cities-style Pizza? That, too, is up for debate, but here are some local favorites:

Antonella’s Pizzeria
Bad Boyz Pizza
Benny’s Pizza
Clint’s Pizza
Fields of Pizza
Frank’s Pizza
Gunchie’s
Harris Pizza
Happy Joe’s Pizza
Maria’s Pizza
Poor Boy’s Pizza
Quad City Pizza Co.
Sports Fans
Slugger’s Pizza
Uncle Bill’s Pizza
Wise Guys Pizza

If you’re up in the Chicago area, try Roots.

Quad Cities-style Pizza is good enough for a road trip to taste it. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live in the area, trying all the best and comparing them is a great bucket list entry or family project! Did I miss any of your favorites? Drop me a comment. I’m always up for trying more variations of some of the world’s best pizza!

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About the author

Meghan Cooley Meghan Cooley moved to the Quad Cities from St. Charles, IL, as an Augustana College student over 20 years ago. She left briefly after graduation and then returned to work in admissions and then marketing at Augustana College for 18 years. She now works as a consultant for admissions marketing and social media. She also does copy editing and writes for the Quad City Moms Blog. Now a true Quad Cities transplant, Meghan lives in Rock Island with her husband, Luke (R.O.W.V.A. and Augustana grad and Modern Woodmen employee) and four boys. She loves living in the Quad Cities and finds it the perfect place to raise a family, plan a date night, and go on adventures.

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