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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pigging out at Wig and Pen Ankeny.

Wig and Pen Ankeny at 2005 S. Ankeny Blvd. has become one of my favorite places in the Metro for pizza and pasta. The original Wig and Pen opened its doors in Coralville back in the '90s, since expanding to locations in Iowa City and Ankeny. Blogger Road Tips has written up an excellent history of the Coralville Wig and Pen on his blog.

I usually start a meal at the Wig and Pen with salad and an appetizer. A Dinner Salad offers a crisp array of greens, tomato, cucumber, red onion, green pepper, croutons, and peperoncini. House Creamy Parmesan dressing is thick, smooth, garlicky and sweet. A full order of onion rings is an impressive nest of thin, crispy strands with plenty to share. Just a bit oily with a few chewy rings cut from the outermost layer of onion, but are otherwise tasty. Thin-cut French fries are excellent enough, being golden and crisp, but when topped with mozzarella and baked, they are glorious.

The Chicago-style stuffed crust pizza is an impressive build whether it be a simple build with pepperoni and garlic, or a meaty Carnivore with Italian sausage, ground beef, pepperoni, and a considerable amount of Canadian bacon. Pizza topping tomato sauce is bright, and the crust is tender and easily cut with a fork. The baking pan is greased with butter which helps to crisp the bottom and sides as well impart flavor, noticeably so when eating the rind.

Chicago-style stuffed crust pizzas: above with pepperoni and garlic, below a meaty Carnivore.

Wig and Pen also serves up two other styles of pizza: a thin-crust; and the Flying Tomato, a pan version of their thin-crust with extra cheese and slices of tomato on top. The thin-crust pizza is marvelously crisp, even under the middle, with a crunchy rind. My favorite build for this style is the Pub Special with pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, onion, and a bounty of sweet red pepper.

Thin-crust pizzas: above a Pub Special, below with pepperoni and onion.

On the Flying Tomato I prefer the Union Jack, featuring Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, and sweet red pepper. A gooey, cheesy shroud rests atop a thick layer of toppings. Thin strips of red bell pepper lend a sweetness to this savory pie. Overall, a hefty slice and just plain good.

The Wigatoni, Wig and Pen's signature pasta dish, is as impressive as the pizza. First and foremost is the crusty-edged cap of melted mozzarella on top, keeping the combination of rotini and mostaccioli moist, but still appealingly firm. A choice of chunky Italian sausage, mild or spicy, is offered. Indeed, the spicy exhibits enough zest to take notice. Held together with a lightly-chunky tomato sauce, it's on the loose side when piping hot. For that and to avoid burning your mouth, I suggest letting the dish rest for a bit to cool and firm up. Plenty of time to peck around the edges and loosen up that glorious crusty edge of cheese from the sides of the bowl.

Final assessment: the Wigatoni is good to the last slop. It's why garlic bread was invented. Wig and Pen also offers a Vegetoni with mushrooms, onions, and sweet Italian pepper, and mini versions of both best suited for lunch and smaller appetites.

Wig and Pen offers a baked Mac & Cheese, with chicken or bacon as add-ons. Built like the Wigatoni with rotini and mostaccioli, but tossed in a thin, creamy cheese sauce blend, and topped with crisp breadcrumbs. The tang of cream cheese betrays its presence. Garlic bread pairs quite well with it. Its tasty and kid pleasing, but doesn't top the awesomeness of the Wigatoni.

On the rare occasion that I crave dessert, I'll order up a Pizookie. What's a Pizookie you say? Its a chocolate chip cookie baked in a bowl, and topped with vanilla ice cream and a maraschino cherry. Simply put, it's good!

Some other dishes that I've tried have been fair to less-than-optimal. A square of spinach lasagne was a little dry but still enjoyable, a bowl of tomato basil ravioli soup with Italian sausage was flavorful enough but the mushy pasta was a surprising disappointment, and a tasty Italian grinder on a toasted hoagie roll offered plenty of mozzarella and sweet red pepper but could have used more sausage. But on the whole, I see revisiting Wig and Pen Ankeny often for pizza, pasta, and Pizookie.

From left: spinach lasagne, Tomato basil ravioli soup with Italian sausage, Italian grinder with French fries.

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