Cooking Light at BJ's Wholesale Club: Heirloom Tomato and Spinach Ravioli
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I feel like ravioli lives on a spectrum. Condensed cans of sodium-and-mystery meat-filled dough – soft, mushy dough that is so saturated in sauce it almost dissolves in your mouth (but oddly enough, still brings back welcome childhood memories at the dinner table).
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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Then there are your restaurant-style pillows of perfection – hand cranked homemade pasta dough delicately rolled, cut, and stuffed with imported meats, cheeses, veggies and herbs, all tossed in a light-but-not-too-clingy sauce with just the right amount of seasoning. YUM. Factor in convenience and you can’t deny the open-up-a-can-and-heat version. Factor in price, and you can’t always afford the restaurant version.
Then there’s the Cooking Light version: Heirloom Tomato and Spinach Ravioli. It’s a happy medium of convenient, healthy, delicious, and affordable. The classic combination of fresh, juicy heirloom tomatoes and part-skim mozzarella cheese make even the coldest days seem brighter, made creamy and rich with light ricotta cheese and sautéed spinach. Just pop these guys in boiling water for a few minutes and before you know it you’ve got a pot of elegantly delicious ravioli surrounded by a feather-light dough. Fill up on the warmth of our heirloom tomato and spinach ravioli, and make it yours with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkle of rustic Parmesan cheese. Serve alongside (or on top!) of a bright, crisp green salad, and an even crisper glass of white wine for a fancy restaurant experience without all the fuss (or bill!!).
Per Cup: CALORIES 200; FAT 5g (sat 2g); PROTEIN 9g; CARB 28g; FIBER 2g; CHOL 35mg; SODIUM 380mg
Cooking Light at BJ's Wholesale Club: Heirloom Tomato and Spinach Ravioli - Recipes
Portland Travel Guide 2011: Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in the City of RosesAntoinette Bruno, Francoise Villeneuve and Shannon Sturgis
Portland is an exciting taste of what’s to come for America’s culinary scene. Despite the occasional Portlandia-ish scene, the City of Roses is definitely not stuck in the dream of the nineties. And despite its cast of quirky characters, Portland is actually an entrepreneur’s fantasy land. It’s got that pioneer spirit that sparked the city’s explosion with tiny restaurants, each with its own culinary stamp. It’s a place where comfort food, DIY culture, and upscale cuisine co-mingle happily, each secure in the knowledge that it has its place. And don’t get us started on the food cart scene. A visitor could happily feast exclusively in Portland’s little food cart camps (called pods).
Portland’s initial isolation from America’s culinary community means that these chefs have an independent spirit. Stumptown is a city of micro-everything, from coffee roasters to distillers to breweries. Food carts and fine dining thrive side by side, packed full of bites, sips and shots not to be missed. Because while Keep Portland Weird might be a hackneyed catchphrase, it’s cool to be different here. And it certainly yields delicious results.
Marquee Pizzeria - Coralville, IA
My wife and I made a recent Sunday trip over to Iowa City to hit the Trader Joe's store in Coralville. My wife had suggested a place in Iowa City to go to for lunch, but when we got there it was packed and there would be a wait. We went to another place I thought about, but it turned out they were closed. A third and fourth place in Coralville were respectively closed as well. My wife and I were incredulous that these many places would be closed, even though it was a Sunday. Finally, my wife said, "There's a place down in the (Iowa River) Landing in Coralville that (her sister) and I noticed one time. Let's try that place out." She gave me directions how to get there and it turned out this place was open. We were going to check out Marquee Pizzeria.
Marquee Pizzeria was started by the same group of people - Sam Hall and siblings Ravi Patel, Raj Patel and Sajni Patel - who started La Vecina, a wood-fired Mexican restaurant just around the corner from Marquee Pizzeria. (Click here to see our visit to La Vecina. Also, quite interestingly, La Vecina is closed on Sunday.) The group was also involved with the Clinton Street Social Club and the Patel's are all part of the family who owns the Hawkeye Hotels hospitality group of hotels and restaurants.
After purchasing the Clinton Street Social Club, the group came up with a concept of a restaurant that had communal dining. The logical food selection was pizza which large groups can enjoy. They wanted to make the restaurant festive, sort of a "Brooklyn, NY comes to Iowa City" vibe and they wanted a large space with sort of a "backyard party" touch. Strings of Edison lights were hung from the ceiling and criss-crossed over the tables of the space.
The type of pizza was also important to the group. Neo-Neapolitan-style pizzas were selected, but they added a type of New York signature to their pizzas - thin crust with a crispy underside to the pizza. And they had to be wood-fired pizzas, so the group turned to the world renown Pavasi Forni Modena company located in Modena, Italy for their oven. The oven is capable of reaching temperatures of 900 degrees (F) to be able to cook the pizzas quickly.
Finding the right kind of dough was also crucial to Sam Hall's vision of what makes an exceptional pizza. Hall worked with five or six different types of dough structures before deciding up on a naturally leavened dough that takes 48 hours from the time it's mixed to the time it's portioned out in dough balls. With a wood-fired oven, it takes more time to prepare the pizza - shaping the dough and putting housemade mozzarella, sauce and premium toppings on top - than it does to cook it. Pizzas at Marquee Pizzeria are usually fully cooked in as little as 90 seconds.
With everything in place, Marquee Pizzeria started out with a soft-opening in October of 2017 to help shake the kinks out. They opened their doors with full menu dining in November of that year.
Pulling up in front of Marquee Pizzeria, we weren't certain that IT was open, either. (see map) But as we turned the corner to go into the public parking ramp at the Iowa River Landing, we saw that there were people inside.
After parking the car, we came in the back door of the place and found that the hostess stand was up to the front of dining room underneath a replica portrait of the Mona Lisa. A full bar with seating was along one wall with a number of tables throughout the place. We were greeted by a young lady who said we could sit anywhere, so we took a table up front next to a large garage door that opened out to a small patio in front of the restaurant.
In the back of restaurant was the large wood-fired pizza oven. The large red oven was difficult to miss. It had char marks on the top of the opening from a number of wood-fired pizzas made over the last two-and-a-half years.
Our server that day was a friendly young man by the name of Nate. I have to say that Nate had a good sense of humor, was more than helpful with suggestions and requests, and was more than accommodating during our time at Marquee Pizzeria. He was what you would categorize as a "good guy".
Nate dropped off a couple menus on the table and wanted to know what we would like to drink. My wife ordered her usual Tito's and cranberry juice, while I asked if I could get a bloody mary. Nate said, "Oh, no, I'm sorry. We don't have bloody mary's. I don't know why, but we don't have the mix for them." I was sort of crestfallen when he told me that as I was craving a bloody mary. And I was sort of confused as they appeared to have a full bar as they certainly had vodka, but didn't have bloody mary mix. But that didn't matter all that much as I found out they had a number of craft beers on tap. I ended up ordering a Toppling Goliath Pompeii mosaic IPA, one of my favorite hazy IPA's.
The menu at Marquee Pizzeria featured a handful of shareable appetizers and salads. They had a handful of pasta dishes, but the main aspect of the menu are their pizzas. They have a number of speciality pizzas on the menu including a margherita pizza that sounded wonderful with their housemade mozzarella, a red sauce and fresh basil. The Vice City pizza consisted of smoked mozzarella, locally-sourced sausage and pepperoni, with a pickled pepper sauce and hot honey. And the Prosciutto Primavera featured - of course - prosciutto, housemade mozzarella, Prairie Breeze aged-white cheddar cheese from the Milton Creamery in Milton, IA, red pepper flakes, garlic-oiled arugula with Calabrian olive oil drizzled on top. Marquee also had a vegan pizza available, as well.
My wife likes to have some greens when she can and she was sort of interested in the Classic Italian Salad - romaine lettuce, sliced cherry tomatoes on sliced cucumbers, chopped red onions, pepperoncini, with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs on top with a red wine vinaigrette on the side. We decided to get a full size salad to share as I thought it sounded good. Well, it looked even better than the description on the menu. My wife remarked that it was almost too nice to dig in to. The presentation was equalled by the fresh taste of the ingredients on the salad. It was a great start for our lunch.
We ordered up the Falco pizza - probably the most popular one on the menu according to Nate. It consisted of locally-sourced pork sausage with a red sauce, then sliced red onions, breadcrumbs, garlic, fresh basil and parmigiano cheese were all added. I asked Nate if he could add some of the locally-sourced pepperoni to the pizza and he said it would be no problem.
The pizza was a 12" pizza - as are all the pizzas at Marquee Pizzeria. It was thicker on the blistered outer ridge, but nice and thin in the middle - just as my wife and I like our pizza. And from the first bite, we could easily tell it was a quality pizza. The fresh flavors of the basil, tomato sauce, the sausage and the pepperoni exploded with each bite. The dough was perfect with little to no sag with each piece.
My wife and I have experienced some pretty good Neapolitan-style pizza in our travels and I would have to say that the pizza we had a Marquee Pizzeria would rival many of the better ones we've had. Everything about the pizza was wonderful - the fresh toppings were flavorful, the dough was spongy, but still had a crispiness to it, and the overall taste was very good. I can't say enough about our server Nate who was attentive and accommodating throughout our visit, going about his job in a friendly and jovial kind of fashion. The only drawback - and a minor one, at that - is that for a place with a full bar, I was surprised that they didn't have a bloody mary mix. But it still seemed like a nice place to gather and even with a number of very good pizza options in the Iowa City area, I'd go back to Marquee Pizzeria at some point.
Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza - Eldridge, IA
My wife and I have a friend who had a home in the small town of Long Grove, about a 20 minute drive north of the Quad Cities. Had is the correct tense here as she just moved back to West Virginia to be closer to family while her husband works overseas as a government contractor. A couple weeks before she moved, she invited us out to her place to help her make heads or tails of some electronics equipment her husband said to go ahead and sell in the upcoming garage sale. I jumped on the chance to see if there was something that was appealing to me. (There was - I got a vintage Yamaha cassette tape deck player. I haven't had a cassette tape deck player in my system since my Nakamichi LX-3 died - for the third time - a few years back and I didn't want to keep putting money into the thing. And - yes - I still have hundreds of cassette tapes in my music collection.) To further entice us to come out, our friend said that she wanted to go to a new pizza place in Eldridge, the town just to the south of Long Grove. We thought that would be a fun night, so after spending some time going through things at her house, we ventured down the road to Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Kitchen.
Now, I was somewhat familiar with Tony Sacco's and knew that it was a franchise. About 10 years ago, I stayed at a hotel in the northwest Chicago suburb of Mount Prospect. The hotel was part of an entertainment/shopping destination called Randhurst Village that had a Tony Sacco's pizza joint in it. That Tony Sacco's location didn't last too long - maybe two or three years - and I never did try it.
The original Tony Sacco's dates back nearly 15 years ago when three Florida friends - all Michigan natives - decided to open a coal-fired pizza place, similar to old-world wood-fired Italian pizza places they had in their youths. Only one - Tony Sacco - had any restaurant experience, while the other two - Chuck Senatore and George Kurajian - were an engineer and a former food service equipment executive, respectively. They decided upon using Sacco's name since it sounded the most Italian of the bunch, but Sacco left the venture before they opened their first Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza in Estero, FL in 2008. The group decided on coal over the old world wood ovens because coal burned hotter - and faster - than wood.
Now, opening a restaurant in the midst of a recession probably isn't the smartest thing to do, but Senatore and Kurajian stuck it out and Tony Sacco's started to get a following. They initially had plans to open 10 of the Tony Sacco's locations in the southwest Florida area on their own, but then the co-owners were approached by a handful of people looking to open franchised restaurants in the Midwest and southern states. Senatore and Kurajian soon started the TSP Management Group to oversee franchising the Tony Sacco restaurants. At one point, there were over a dozen Tony Sacco's in states from Illinois and Michigan down through Indiana and Ohio, and on south all the way to a handful in southwest Florida.
It turned out that the Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza concept didn't work out well for a lot of franchisees as there are now just four other locations outside of the original one in Estero, FL. And the confounding things is that the remaining locations are located in peculiar areas - there's one in northwest Indiana, one in a small city outside of Cleveland, one in a small town between Detroit and Lansing, MI, and the newest one in Eldridge, a bedroom community/agriculture-centric area just north of the Quad Cities.
In 2017, the Whitty family - whose father, Joe, founded Happy Joe's Pizza - sold their interests in Happy Joe's to a newly formed company called Dynamic Restaurant Holdings. At the same time, Dynamic Restaurant Holdings acquired majority interest in Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza. Ironically, Dynamic Restaurant Holdings named industry veteran Tom Sacco (formerly with Bonanza and Ponderosa Steakhouse, Red Robin and BJ's Brewhouse) as their new CEO in October of last year. Sacco - who has no family connection to the original Tony Sacco - announced last fall that they would put in a Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza in what was the old Lancers, then Grille 350 location in Eldridge.
The Eldridge Tony's Sacco location is attached to the Happy Joe's restaurant, and because of that it has a different menu than the other locations. From Day 1, Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza never had fryers, microwave ovens, or stove tops. Everything was made in the coal-fired ovens. But while the Eldridge location still has a coal-fired oven, the attached kitchen from Happy Joe's allows for an expansion of food offerings such as burgers, sandwiches, Italian entrees and appetizers such as Buffalo chicken dip and Italian nachos featuring crostini bread instead of corn chips.
Our friend had eaten there with other friends a few nights before, but she said, "The service was just so bad. I thought the food was good, but the service was horrible." It could be that the service is bad because Tony Sacco's is having trouble getting employees to work there. In a recent article in the Quad City Times, Tom Sacco lamented that he was struggling to find full-time employees - even paying more than the going rate of most other restaurants in the area. He said that many of the potential employees indicated that they didn't want to make the drive from the Quad Cities up to Eldridge - just 15 minutes north of downtown Davenport. Sacco said that he only had 12 employees at one point when he ideally would like to have 30 to 35 people on staff. Sacco said that he had to move a couple employees over to Eldridge from the Tony Sacco's operation just outside of South Bend, IN.
This past late fall, we lost one of our favorite pizza places in the Quad Cities, Crust Pizza. (Click here to see the entry on Crust.) We liked the variety Crust offered (Chicago-deep dish, wood-fired Neapolitan, and tavern-cut thin crust pizzas) and they had a great selection of craft beer, wine and a full bar menu. So, when we heard that a Tony Sacco's was opening in the area, we were hoping that it would, at the very least, fill some of the hole that the closing of Crust put into our regular rotation of non-Quad City-style pizza establishments that we like to go to.
We pulled into the parking lot at Tony Sacco's just after 6 p.m. on a Friday night. (see map) We think that getting employees was still a problem for Tony Sacco's because we were told it would be a 30 minute wait for a table. Even with social distancing guidelines in place, there appeared to be a number of open tables and booths in the restaurant. It was a very large space. We had eaten at the old Lancers Grille a couple of times years and years ago, but I didn't remember it being this big of a place. We just figured they didn't have enough wait staff to take care of people if they sat everyone as they came in.
After we put our name in, the hostess asked for a phone number to contact us when our table was ready. I looked over and saw a small bar area with a corrugated tin facade. I asked if we could get a drink while we waited. The hostess flatly said, "No, you cannot." We sort of stood by the front door and she finally said, "And you can't even be in here waiting for your table. You'll have to go to your car." I asked if we could stand in the vestibule and she said, "No, I'm sorry."
So we did. We sat in our car waiting for just over 30 minutes before my phone buzzed with a text that our table was ready. While we were sitting there talking, our friend kept peering over at the front door. "There's people standing in the entry way," she said with a disgusted tone. We told her that it was fine to wait in the car. I'd rather be hanging in an area away from people in the dead of winter in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
We went back inside and were greeted by another young lady who took us to a booth just past the hostess stand. We were given menus and it wasn't too long after that when our server for the evening, an energetic and fun young lady by the name of Pam came over to greet us. The first dilemma we had was what to drink. They had a couple IPA's on tap - one of 12 beers they had on tap - one, the Space Dust from the Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, Washington, and the other the Surf Zombie IPA from the Iowa Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids. I started out with a Space Dust, then switched to a Surf Zombie for my second beer.
Drinks for the women were tough. My wife wanted a vodka and cranberry, but all they had were cans of cranberry lemonade. She ended up taking a Space Dust IPA. Our friend loves lagers and she's a big fan of Samuel Adams beer. Well, they had no lagers on tap, no Sam Adams in bottles and the only full-bodied lager they had was Budweiser in bottles. She reluctantly took one of those. Pam apologized for them not having Samuel Adams. "We get requests for that beer all the time," she said. "I need to let the owner know that we may need to bring some in."
(I saw Tom Sacco sitting up at the bar later in the evening, recognizing him from his picture in the paper.)
We figured that we'd get a pizza - our friend was completely good with our standard Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. At Tony Sacco's, they offer two kinds of pepperoni - the regular cut and the "cupped" pepperoni that curls up and is a little more crisp than the regular pepperoni. We ordered a large (16") pizza with the regular pepperoni.
My wife also wanted to get a salad and she was able to talk our friend into sharing the Italian chop salad they had on the menu. It featured chopped romaine lettuce mixed in with pepperoni, sliced ham and salami, red onions, chopped tomatoes, banana pepper rings, chopped celery with green and Kalamata olives. Shredded provolone cheese topped the salad.
We sat there for quite sometime waiting for the salad to show up. It finally came to the table and not more than 30 seconds later while the women were divvying up the salad, our pizza came. "Oh, geez," my wife said. "I would have liked to have gotten the salad long before the pizza."
Pam came over to check on us after the pizza made it to the table and I said, "I think they would have liked to have gotten the salad a lot sooner than just 30 seconds before the pizza showed up."
She immediately apologized. "That's on me, you guys," she said. "I should have asked if you wanted it before the pizza because we consider our salads as regular entrees." Quite honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal and it was another learning experience for us as patrons and Pam as a server at a new restaurant.
The pizza looked pretty good. It featured chunks of sausage, large discs of pepperoni, and a bunch of sliced fresh mushrooms. The only thing that I could see was that it seemed that they concentrated much of the toppings in the center of the pizza.
And I have to say that the pizza was very good. The crust was puffy, but not too thick. The mozzarella cheese was fresh and creamy. And the sausage and pepperoni were slight spicy. The earthiness of the fresh mushrooms rounded the overall flavor of the pizza into a very favorable taste.
The women concentrated more on their salad - which was served in a large bowl and put on two plates that they had brought out - than they did the pizza. I had three pieces before I threw in the towel. My wife and our friend both had one piece each. The remaining 3 pieces we put into a box and let our friend take them back to her house.
Since Tony Sacco's Coal Oven Pizza had been open less than 6 weeks when we went there for our first visit, we completely broke our rule of waiting 3 months after a restaurant opens to give it a try. While there were a couple hiccups along the way on this visit, we wrote them off to growing pains of a new restaurant trying to find itself on a short staff. Our friend said that the service on this visit was markedly better than the service she experienced on her first visit just a few days before. I was pleased with our pizza - the cheese and toppings were fresh and full of flavor. It's one of the better ones that I've had in the greater Quad Cities area. We're not averse to taking the drive out to Eldridge and I'm sure we'll find ourselves out at Tony Sacco's Coal Fire Oven every once in a while to enjoy a good non-Quad City-style pizza.