With 60-degree weather in November and early December, the owners of Marquee Pizzeria in Coralville’s Iowa River Landing were able to roll up the garage door that serves as the front wall of their restaurant and let in the fresh air.
It was an unexpected way to welcome diners to the new pizzeria, which opened Nov. 16, but an entirely appropriate one, said co-owner Sam Hall, because it reflected the aesthetic of the restaurant.
“We really wanted to have an outdoor feel,” he said. “A lot of the inspiration for this place was a backyard pizza party.”
The name is a direct allusion to that pizza party concept. In addition to a sign in front of a theater, a marquee also can refer to an outdoor party tent.
Inside, strings of lights hang from the ceiling over wooden tables meant to allude to picnic tables. The backyard party vibe centers around the wood-fired pizza oven, imported from Italy. It can cook pizzas in 90 seconds at temperatures of up to 900 degrees, and with an open kitchen, diners can watch the chefs and oven in action.
Executive chef Will Evans, who was formerly the sous chef at Basta, said he had a crash course in perfecting his pizza technique after the oven was installed.
“The heat, the amount of time the dough rises — two days is ideal — there’s a lot more chemistry involved than I thought there would be,” he said. “It’s about the feel of the dough.”
Hall described the pizzas they cook as “Neapolitan meets New York,” with a crispy crust.
“Just the idea of cooking with a real live, open flame — it cooks the pizza completely differently,” he said.
Signature pies include classics like the margherita but also ones centered on Iowa ingredients, like the Wulfenstein, topped with La Querica speck (a type of prosciutto), roasted mushrooms and house-made mozzarella.
The menu also has salads and sides and a few non-pizza entrees like a burger. Two pasta dishes are slated to be added soon.
The custom-built wood bar, with tall, arched cabinets and mirrors along one wall, highlights the bar program, which includes craft beers, wines and specialty cocktails.
Hall opened the restaurant with partners Ravi, Sajni and Raj Patel, who own Hawkeye Hotels. The pizzeria is the second foray into restaurants for the company, which also bought downtown Iowa City cocktail bar Clinton Street Social Club this year.
Hall has had his eye on Iowa River Landing for the last two years.
“With all the development of the area, it’s kind of the hot spot of Coralville right now,” he said.
He has worked in the restaurant industry for about 12 years and said he’s enjoying this latest venture.
“I really like the hospitality industry,” he said. “There’s something special about seeing your table have a great experience and really enjoying themselves.”
WHAT: Marquee Pizzeria
WHERE: 920 East Second Ave. #123, Coralville
HOURS: Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; bar remains open until 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday
DETAILS: (319) 333-1018, marqueepizzeria.com