Peoria Is a Pizza Destination
Take a pizza pilgrimage to Illinois, and see how a tough Midwestern town keeps cranking out the good stuff
On a Saturday morning in Creve Coeur, just across the Illinois River from my hometown of Peoria, a server at Larry’s Driftwood walked back toward the kitchen window to talk to the man in a Carhartt jacket about a 19-year-old kid who was sentenced to 80 years for murder.
“His grandma comes in here. It’s gotta be tough for her,” she said. The server walked past the Formica bar to pick up what may be one of the Midwest’s most special pizzas. An ’80s relic, Larry’s is a standout, complete with the broken arcade games in the backroom and Simpsons faces on the wall to denote pie size, with the Bart-and-Lisa representing the largest.
Although the pizza has all the markings of the square-slice, tavern-style pies that I grew up on — with East Coast pepperoni swapped for ground beef or sausage — what comes out of the oven suggests the cook dropped acid and decided to experiment. Cheese is strewn haphazardly across the pie, producing lines of orange, yellow, and white — interspersed by ground beef and a smattering of minced green peppers. The flavor is something I can best describe as “I don’t know, but I need to keep eating it.” It’s the type of pizza that people back in Naples would trash. Then again, no one understood Van Gogh in his time, either.
Peoria’s square slices allow for middle pieces, the bottom crust minus the edge that holds the meat and cheese pile that barely makes it to your mouth before crumbling into a gooey mess. The crusty corner slices go down better thanks to toppings served on the side, particularly ranch. Some locals prefer their slices cut into smaller strips, the entire pizza cut long across, with just one horizontal line dividing the pie down the middle.
While Larry’s Driftwood and Monical’s and Agatucci’s stick to squares and strips, back across the river in Peoria’s downtown, a lone tavern offers triangle slices. On a given night at Hoops, a cook assembles a pizza bomb of greasy orange cheese and chicken.
If you’re not from Peoria, you may be forgiven for not knowing it is pizza heaven. For those of us from here, we’ve known it all our lives.