Most Iowans probably know what I’m talking about when I say “The O.P.”
We have a popular local pizza chain called The Other Place. Yes, that’s actually the name. There are eight total restaurants, two of which are located in Kansas. The original “Other Place” has been located in Cedar Falls since 1970. When I think of The O.P. I think of happy things: Thick, bubbly layers of chewy melted cheese, pizza, spicy nacho cheese, popcorn and 7 and 7’s.
The second oldest O.P. is located across the street from Wartburg College where I graduated from college. On weekends, we ate cheap $5 pizzas from Dominos, but when mom and dad came to town, we asked them to take us to The Other Place. My family liked the pizza here so much that they usually wanted to dine here anyway. There were a few occasions when especially kind professors treated our whole class to pizza at the O.P at the end of the semester.
College kids partied at Joe’s, so the O.P. was usually a quiet place we spent many weekend evenings playing cards over drinks and eating nachos with spicy cheese sauce. It was here at the Waverly O.P. that a friend first introduced me to 7 and 7’s, explaining they were composed of ” seven hard liquors mixed with 7-Up.” My drink was so strong that I believed her and never drank one again until our recent visit to Willow Run. Jake finally informed me that a 7 and 7 actually contains Seagram’s and 7-Up. I order them now and laugh. We were nerds drinking cocktails before it was possible to access the internet on cell phones.
Last weekend I took Jake to the Clear Lake O.P. The exterior’s nondescript, but the inside opens into a spacious sports bar with plenty of big screen TV’s. You may be wondering what’s so special about the O.P’s pizza. I think the draw’s in their cheese and crust. The thick crust tastes homemade and has a special, almost fermented flavor. It has a crisp bottom crust and, at first glance, appears heavy, but eats lighter than expected.
And the cheese is glorious. Each pizza is coated in a thick layer of high quality cheese that’s golden brown. It strings when it’s hot and chews nicely when it cools. Most importantly, it’s not that cheap crap you find at other pizza chains. Cheap pizza chain cheese just sits there like a toupee and disintegrates when you bite into it. Boo cheap cheese. My only critique about this pizza is that the mushrooms tasted canned. I’ll eat them, but fresh are my favorite.
As if we didn’t have enough cheese, we ordered a cheese crisp. Jake has fond childhood memories dipping cheese crisps into salsa at Chi-Chi’s he’s been searching for the next closest thing ever since. Chi-Chi’s went out of business in the United States in 2004 after a hepatitis outbreak originated at a location in Pennsylvania that killed four people and infected 660. Oddly enough, there are still operating Chi-Chi’s in Belgium, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. You can also purchase shelf stable foods by this brand in American grocery stores.
For all intensive purposes, a cheese crisp is a crispy flour tortilla topped with melted cheese. Jake confirmed the O.P.’s cheese crisp is indeed the closest thing he’s found to Chi-Chi’s (so far). He noted that the O.P’s differs because it has a butter flavor and is topped with more cheese than what he remembers at Chi-Chi’s.
After his first O.P. experience, Jake commented that he could see why I had such warm memories here. Everywhere we looked, we saw people eating cheese! Gooey cheese hung into threads from pieces of pizza and cheese bread. The O.P. is really a wonderland of good melted cheese. And about that cocktail. . . I ordered a 7 and 7 for posterity’s sake. I think I called it a 7 in 7, but they knew what I meant. Also, the side salads here ($4.25) may cost more than the cocktails, but they do serve “good” ranch.