Southside pizza primer
Iowa has some great pizza options around town. There are multiple Gusto locations, Centro downtown and Tacopocalypse’s Sam Auen has a pizza place set to open in the River Bend neighborhood this summer. But it’s hard to top the concentration of pizza places on the south side of Des Moines.
The area features pizza places that have been around for decades, with recipes passed down through the family. Many were making great pies before something like a national chain of pizza places was even an idea.
New options like Chef D’s Rock Power Pizza and Twisted Pizzaria have opened recently, showing that the area is where pizza chefs look to launch their careers. The south side is the traditional home of pizza in Des Moines. Let’s take a visit.
The story: There’s a lot of history in south side pizzerias, but Twisted Pizzaria is the new kid on the block. Owner Charles Lane opened the space four months ago, operating it with his family, bringing decades of restaurant experience ranging from fine dining to pizza chains.
Atmosphere: Twisted has a very DIY feel. There were homemade Valentine decorations up during my visit and the kitchen area is open so you can see your pie being made. It’s new, but Twisted feels like a place that has been slinging pizza for years (in part because it previously housed Fia’s Pizzaria).
The menu: In addition to pizza, Twisted smokes its own ribs, with St. Louis and baby back full and half racks available for $16.95–$24.95. Additional items include meatball and grinder sandwiches, pulled pork and chicken, pasta, calzones and desserts. There are also gluten-free pizzas.
What we ordered: The pulled pork pizza, topped with pork smoked in-house, bacon, cheddar, mozzarella and barbecue sauce. It’s a little bit of everything that is awesome in the world. Tender meat, crunchy bacon and sweet barbecue sauce. It’s pretty amazing.
Toppings: Specialty options include the Greek God (spinach, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, black olives, green olives and chicken with an olive oil and garlic base), Buffalo chicken, bacon mac and cheese, the hot mess (jalapenos, capicola, pepperoni, banana peppers, black olives) and a breakfast pizza. Other options include Graziano’s sausage, pork sausage, anchovies and cheddar cheese.
Crust: Twisted’s slices have a bit of give, making them easier to fold. That can come in handy when you have an especially loaded slice and don’t want to lose any toppings.
Cost: The large pulled pork pizza was $17.50. An extra-large is $19.50.
Slice count: Half a pizza (four slices) had me full.
Our take: Twisted Pizzaria adds a bit of variety to the south side pizza scene. Sometimes you want to get a little crazy with the options.
Location: 3801 SW Ninth St.
Hours: 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–midnight Sunday
Chef D’s Rock Power Pizza
The story: Derrick Walton (Chef D) opened Rock Power Pizza in January, 2014, with a mission to create made-from-scratch Italian food and to feed the homeless hot, healthy meals each Monday. His philanthropic work caught the attention of television host Ellen DeGeneres, who in April awarded him $10,000 to help his efforts.
Atmosphere: Honey-colored wood and stone accents give the main dining space a cozy vibe. Biblical and inspirational sayings are displayed on the walls.
Menu: Italian fare is the mainstay, and specials like Chef D’s Philly stuffed burrito (steak, beef, rice, red and green peppers, provolone cheese and sauce) and the Angus mushroom burger caught our attention. The pizza menu includes nine specialty options. Or, guests can customize pies with specialty toppings like smoked or grilled chicken, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes and wild mushrooms ($1 each).
We were extremely excited when our waiter told us we could try four varieties of pizza in one pie. We obliged and our pizza contained one quadrant each of the Buffalo chicken, the Chef D’s meat lover’s, the Philly cheese steak and the taco pizzas.
Toppings: All of the meats (except pepperoni) are hand-processed at the restaurant. The Buffalo chicken was full of spicy flavor, and the rich, decadent meat lover’s pizza was my dining partner’s favorite. My favorite, the Philly cheese steak, is made with marinated steak and is adorned with red, yellow and green peppers. The taco pizza was decked with generous toppings.
Crust: The crust is made with a garlic and herb sauce and is finished with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. We loved it.
Cost: $22.95 for one large (15-inch) pie customized with four different types of specialty pizzas.
Slice count: You’ll be pretty full after eating this pizza — Chef D is generous with the toppings. There were 16 square slices in the large pizza; I had four small slices and my dining partner had six.
Our take: Rock Power gets bonus points for not only creating high-quality food, but also serving our community by feeding the homeless each week. And we loved that Chef D came out and talked with us. The pizza here is a must-try.
Location: 4211 SW Ninth St.
Hours: 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Orlondo’s Bar & Grill
The story: Orlondo’s was established in 1978 and has a serious focus on fresh food. The food is made from scratch, the restaurant has an on-site garden and the menu requests that guests allow for extra time for their orders to be prepared.
Atmosphere: The outside is pretty inconspicuous, and inside, the place looks like a neighborhood bar, with several flat-screen televisions, a pool table and no-frills furniture. I arrived about 4 p.m. on a Saturday and a few families were scattered throughout the dining area; the bar was mostly full.
The menu: The menu is full of Italian classics including appetizers and salads, sandwiches (the Italian grinder and Italian beef stood out), pastas and pizza. Orlondo’s offers three specialty pizzas — the combo, the veggie and the Italian veggie. Toppings ($1.25 each for medium pies; $1.50 each for large pies) include the usual suspects as well as less common choices like aged provolone cheese, fried banana peppers and capicola. The day I came, sausage and pepperoni pizzas were offered by the slice ($3 each).
What I ordered: I started with a small house salad, and it was decked with generous chunks of grilled chicken, creamy house-made blue cheese dressing and a mound of mozzarella cheese. I ordered a 12-inch (medium) Orlondo’s combo pizza, which was topped with sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion and roasted sweet peppers.
Toppings: The cheese tasted extremely fresh, and the toppings were layered in a way that I could experience the full flavor of each in every bite.
Crust: Pies are made with Orlondo’s homemade thin crust, and guests can choose from regular, wheat or rye crust. I ordered the wheat crust — thin, crispy and slightly sweet — an excellent complement to the tangy tomatoes and tender meat.
Cost: $16 for a 12-inch Orlondo’s combo, $3.50 for the orange peel and $3.50 for the small salad.
Slice count: For those who are just having pizza, three to four slices from the 12-inch (medium) pie are probably enough. I had two slices (there were 12 square slices in the 12-inch pie), plus the small salad, and I was full.
Our take: I applaud the restaurant for asking customers to be patient. My pizza took around 20 minutes to make, which is a small wait for a high-quality pie. Keep Orlondo’s on your short list for great, homemade pizza.
Location: 4337 Park Ave.
Hours: 4 p.m.–2 a.m. Monday; 11–2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m. daily.
The story: Scornovacca’s is a family restaurant named after Martin J. Scornovacca, who immigrated to the United States in 1914. His grandson, Michael, along with this mother, Rose, opened the first Scornovacca’s Pizza on the corner of SE Eighth Street and Indianola Road. Family recipes fill the Italian menu.
Atmosphere: We arrived on a weeknight and were among a few other parties enjoying dinner. Photos of the family adorn the walls of the cozy space, and a lighted trellis adds a charming touch to the entryway. Our waitress was friendly and helped us navigate the appealing menu.
The menu: It’s an Italian food paradise, with appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pasta choices, plus more than one page devoted to pizzas. Specialty pizzas include chicken bacon alfredo, pesto pollo, and the deluxe, topped with sausage, mushroom, pepperoni, capicola and roasted peppers. Customers can customize their with a choice of marinara, alfredo, pesto or garlic butter sauce, plus meat and veggie toppings ($1.50–$1.70 per topping, depending on the pie size).
What we ordered: My dining partner and I started with the Italian nachos — tortilla chips topped with Italian grinder meat, Monterey Jack cheese sauce and pepper rings. The dish isn’t necessarily authentic Italian fare, but it was awesome. We also ordered the Mama’s meatball pizza.
Toppings: Mama’s meatball pie is topped with house-made meatballs, roasted sweet peppers and garlic. The cheese didn’t extend all the way out to the crust, however, there was plenty of it on the pie. The meatballs were chopped into little pieces, and the flavor was outstanding.
Crust: The thin crust was excellent — crisp, with a slightly chewy texture.
Cost: The Italian nachos were $7.95 and the large (14-inch) Mama’s meatball pizza was $20.75.
Slice count: If you’re just having the pizza, around three to four slices will probably fill you. After the Italian nachos, I had two small slices and my dining partner had four.
Our take: Scornovacca’s is an Italian staple in Des Moines, and the pizza here is definitely worth experiencing. Bonus points go to the Italian nachos for exceptional flavor and great texture.
Location: 1930 SE 14th St.
Hours: 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4–9 p.m. Sunday
The story: Paesano’s has been serving pizza on the south side for 33 years. Bruce and Christy Kennedy opened the restaurant and it’s been in the same hands ever since. The ingredients come from local sources like Graziano Brothers, Loffredo and Brewers Fresh Meats.
Atmosphere: If someone asked you to close your eyes and imagine what a pizza parlor looks like, Paesano’s is probably what would spring to mind. Everything feels a little dated, but not in a bad way. In a comfy way. Speaking of comfy, the maroon (p)leather seats in the booths are great if you’re looking for an evening of marathon pizza eating.
The menu: Outside of the pizza, Paesano’s menu isn’t super extensive. There’s cavatelli, spaghetti and a sandwich section that includes top sirloin, meatball, a Graziano grinder and a few other options. If you’re looking for breaded apps, Paesano’s has several, with mushrooms and cauliflower joining the usual cheese sticks and ravioli.
What we ordered: Aunt Angie’s Special, seemed too interesting to pass up. It’s topped with capicola, fried sweet peppers, meatballs and boiled egg slices. I can accept egg on a breakfast pizza, but for dinner seemed a little odd. Just go with it; it works.
Toppings: Italian sausage, pepperoni, ham, meatball, green, sweet, hot and jalapeno peppers, black and green olives, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, hamburger, capicola, egg slices. Specialties include the Paesano’s Combo (sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, ham, pepperoni), Hawaiian, taco and vegetarian.
Crust: Thin, not too crisp or flimsy. You get some chewiness, but the toppings aren’t all going to slide off when you pick up a piece.
Cost: The large Aunt Angie’s was $14.20. An extra-large is $17.05.
Slice count: Paesano’s cut the pizza into a dozen slices, I ended up eating seven. Three or four would sustain more normal appetites.
Our take: Pizza is what Paesano’s does, and they’ve been doing it well for decades.
Location: 2804 SW Ninth St.
Hours: 4–10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4–11:30 p.m. Friday and Sunday, 4–9 p.m. Sunday
Delivery? Yes, on the south side.
The story: You’ve probably seen the Baratta name around town at places like Forte and the State Historical Building, but its first connection to food was a small grocery store on the south side, connected to the Baratta home. That transitioned into a restaurant that is still operating on the south side. It’s no longer operated by the Baratta family, but new owners Joe Gatto and Kurt and Lisa Kruger have kept the tradition alive.
Atmosphere: The segment of South Union Street that Baratta’s is located on isn’t an especially commercial area. It feels like you’re just walking into someone’s house.
The menu: Pretty much everything you could want from an Italian restaurant, including chicken Parmesan, shrimp linguini, cavatelli, chicken amaggio, tortellini and more.
What we ordered: Dan’s Special, a pizza with capicola, Italian sausage, sweet red peppers, green peppers and onions. There’s a lot of flavor, with no one item overwhelming the others.
Toppings: Other specialties include the Baratta’s combo (pepperoni, mushroom, onion), Hawaiian, superstar (soppressata, cherry peppers, basil), taco, just meat and margherita. Toppings include capicola, ground beef, Italian sausage, pepperoni, shrimp, anchovies, black olives, green peppers, red peppers, banana peppers, mushrooms, pineapple, onion, tomatoes, sauerkraut, crab, artichoke hearts.
Crust: Crisp, but not cracker-like.
Cost: $18.25 for a large, $12.50 for small.
Slice count: I was satisfied with half a pizza (four slices).
Our take: Barratta’s has great pizza, but they also have a lot of other delicious options if you’re dining with friends who want something else.
Location: 2320 S. Union St.
Hours: 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5–9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4–10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.