“Cause there ain’t no party like the pre-party
And after the party is the after-party
At the gas station pizza party (yea, pass me the chicken wings).”
I have no idea why this, but Lee Brice song comes to mind. We weren’t eating pizza in a parking lot and there were no chicken wings.
Gas station pizza is kind of a thing here, especially gas station breakfast pizza. In early February, actress Mila Kunis made the Des Moines Register when she commented that Casey’s General Store makes her favorite gas station snack, a “delicious breakfast pizza” in a Reddit AMA.
It’s not that we have bad taste in North Iowa, it’s that we have a lot of Casey’s and that their breakfast pizza is actually pretty good. North Iowa is composed of many small towns. We live in the biggest city in North Iowa which clocked in at 27,500 in 2013. Some towns like Plymouth are tiny with 373 residents and many fall somewhere in between like Charles City at 7,500. We drive a lot just like we did in the Twin Cities, but unlike a 30-minute commute between Apple Valley, MN and Minneapolis, there might not be as much between the cities. There’s usually a Casey’s somewhere in-between and there are some small towns in which a Casey’s in one of the only businesses.
During the first year I lived in Mason City, I worked at a small nonprofit in Osage, a town of 6,500.
It took me 40-minutes to drive to work on good-weather days. The only place to stop for gas, or anything, really, was Manly, Iowa. When my tank ran low or a train blocked Highway 9, I’d pull into Casey’s to fill my tank and grab a slice of breakfast pizza.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Casey’s Pizza is Pizzeria Lola or Broders’, but you might also find their breakfast pizza tastes surprisingly good. It’s the only breakfast pizza that doesn’t gross me out and it’s available at gas stations in rural Iowa. I like the crust and the cheese is the real, chewy kind. After I eat a slice, I keep smelling whiffs of butter. In fact, I think it tastes better than many chain pizza joints.
After Mila mentioned Casey’s breakfast pizza, we began talk about it on Twitter. Gas station Kum & Go jumped into a conversation and offered to let us try their breakfast pizza, too. Before I knew it, my North Iowa blogger friends had coordinated a pizza party.
Casey’s, Kum & Go and Godfather’s generously donated pies. Jenny brought Iowan beer, Donna contributed a frozen, gluten-free Udi’s pizza, and I brought a pizza margarita from our new, local Italian restaurant Pasta Bella.
Beth always offers to host our tasting parties and really is the hostess with the mostess. She made voting sheets complete with smiley face stickers for voting, pizza signs, and caprese salad.
Val brought her famous Overnight Salad. It’s a layered salad of lettuce, cauliflower, onion, parmesan, mayo, and sugar that sits overnight and you toss before serving.
Honestly, I preferred Val’s salad over the pizzas and returned for seconds. My version of Overnight Salad will never be as good as Val’s because it included bacon she and her husband made on their farm. They cut it into super thick chunks. It was like I was eating succulent pieces of pork belly instead of the bacon strips I usually find. Val said she and her husband chuckle when presented with what people typically refer to as “thick-cut bacon.”
There were so many types of pizza that I lost track of what I tasted. I filled my plate with pieces of cut-up slices and soon gave up keeping track of what they were. Plus, I kept wanting to eat that salad.
Everyone had their favorites. I posted about our party on my social media accounts and learned that Godfather’s has a very loyal following. I haven’t eaten it since college.
In case you were wondering, this is what a Kum & Go breakfast pizza looks like. Why should let Casey’s completely sweep the gas station breakfast pizza game;) I was in a pizza coma when I tasted this pizza, but someone said Kum & Go’s also adds hashbrowns.
We voted for our favorites and Pasta Bella received the most. I liked that it had a thin crust and delicate tasting toppings that included fresh tomatoes and basil. Our newest blogger Loni said it tasted closest to the pizzas she enjoyed in Italy.
And so a North Iowa Pizza Part: Part II is in order. Obviously we are missing many places like Little Chicago, Pete’s Kitchen, Breadeaux, Azzolina’s, and The Other Place. We’re just taking it a few pizzas at a time.
Fifteen months ago, four of us North Iowa bloggers met for dinner for the first time. Now, our group’s grown to nearly 30 people. Comparing life in a big metropolitan area like Minneapolis-St. Paul to North Iowa is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, I miss the lakes and ordering eggplant pizza from Broders’ anytime I’d like. But the skies here are big and I hope I’m never too cool for gas station breakfast pizza.
I miss Amy and I love these women. Life with these friendships is good.