Ever since pizza made its grand and unyielding entrance onto America's culinary stage decades ago, the variations on the concept have become endless. You can mix and match crusts, sauces, cheeses, and toppings to accomplish just about any flavor profile that you desire.
But what about the way the pie is cooked? Does a pizza taste different (better) if it is cooked in a conventional oven versus a wood or coal fired oven?
Personally, the answer to that question is pretty easy to answer: Yes.
And there is one place in North Central Iowa that I'd direct you to back up that assertion. The name of the restaurant is 'Fuel' and with a full bar and a diverse and creative menu that specializes in pizza, it is a stop that needs to be added to any food lover's Iowa itinerary.
Fuel is located in Clarion and is situated just a block north of the Wright County Courthouse in the downtown area of the city.
Yes, Fuel uses quality fresh ingredients.
But it's their use of an imposing and imported coal fired brick oven that gives the pie a unique char and chewiness with a hint of craveable saltiness that sets them apart from everyone else - whether small town joint or urban eatery.
The inside of the place is bursting with character. From floor to ceiling, there's nothing cookie cutter or bland about the decor.
I especially liked this wall with the quote from Benjamin Franklin on it.
Much of what is adorning the walls has a local connection to it. However, there is plenty of racing content too.
There's even some Busch Light swag on the ceiling featuring Carson King, the twenty-something Iowa guy who turned a stint on College Game Day into a $3 million dollar fundraiser (with "help" from the Des Moines Register) for the children's hospital at the University of Iowa.
There is a wide variety of seating options both inside and outside. The fully stocked bar has some seating, though I'm sure it's been cut down for social distancing purposes.
There's also various table options for differing sizes of parties.
On the north side of the building is a gorgeous patio adorned with all kinds of flowers, plants, and decorative lighting. While it's not suitable for year-a-round seating (winter can be brutal in North Iowa), it was being enjoyed on a beautiful August evening by a number of patrons when I visited.
If you are going for your first time, as I did, I think getting pizza is the obvious choice. Pizza is what Fuel is famous for. That said, they are not limited to pizza.
They have a menu that ranges from pizza to appetizers and sandwiches to salads. Not to mention, a quick scroll through their Facebook page will find a number of delicious looking specials. It's hard not to find yourself dreaming of (and drooling for) some of the desserts that I've seen, too.
I visited Fuel with a couple of friends back in mid-August and the three of use sampled a few different menu options. We started with an appetizer order of their garlic cheese sticks. Like everything, these are cooked in the coal fired pizza oven and...whoa were they tasty. There's just something uniquely different about the taste that happens with the coal oven.
We then got one small size of the Aloha and the Carnivore pizzas.
The "Aloha" is essentially the ham and pineapple offering. It's the Hawaiian or "Sweet Swine". For those of you that think pineapple does not belong on pizza (you are wrong by the way), this pizza is not going to be for you. For everyone else, I found it to be quite outstanding.
The Carnivore is the "all meat" version and I cannot say enough good things about it. Very memorable.
As I've said previously, it's pretty hard to have bad pizza...yet...not all pizza is treated equally. All pizza is good pizza but some pizza is just better than others. The pizza at Fuel is simply better. For pizza lovers or those who want to try something a little bit different, a road trip to Clarion should be in order. Not to mention, there's much more to do and see in Clarion and Wright County as a whole. A visit to Fuel and then a stop up the road at the locally popular Timbukbru brewery would be an excellent way to spend an evening or a Saturday afternoon.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile in Wright County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.