Norwalk's Pyra Pizzeria a delicious destination just miles from downtown Des Moines
It’s never too late to build on a dream or start a new career. That may sound cliché, but in this case, the story warrants the risk. Case in point: Steve Taylor, owner of Pyra Pizzeria in Norwalk.
After dedicating nearly three decades working for United Airlines, Taylor began dreaming of what else he would do with his life during a layoff after 9/11. “I did a little self-reflection and decided that I didn’t just want to go look for another career working for another company should my current one come to a permanent end,” said Taylor. “So, I thought about what I’d enjoyed in life and remembered fondly working at a pizzeria in Ames during college.”
After he was recalled to his job at United, he spent the next 12 years working on pizza recipes whenever he had the chance. And when his layoff became permanent after a merger, he finally decided to take that first step at owning his own business.
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“I decided to approach the owner of the Norwalk Hardware store and inquire if he was interested in selling the building. I’d had my eye on it for years,” said Taylor. Fortunately, the owner was interested, and Taylor and another former United co-worker spent the next year and a half gutting and renovating the 120-year-old brick and mortar building.
“I just always thought it would make a great restaurant in the fashion of so many you find in cities where you find old warehouse districts full of quaint shopping and restaurants. The kind with the bare brick walls and kitschy looking interiors,” said Taylor. “ I think it’s worked well for that. We didn’t really have much of a plan. We just gutted it. And put it back together the way you see it. I tell people we ran out of money and that’s why it remains in the ‘unfinished’ state it appears to be in. I get reactions of ‘Oh wow, you wouldn’t want to change this.’ ” He added, “I let them know I’m kidding. Oh, why? Because I’m a little bit crazy.”
Crazy? Perhaps. Passionate? Undoubtedly.
Taylor had originally planned on serving American-style thin-crust pizza, but he knew the building called out for something unique. So he and his wife decided to take a little trip to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit a place called Pizzeria Bianco.
“Chris Bianco is a James Beard award-winning chef,” said Taylor. “He has been named the Best Pizza in America by Peter Reinhart, author of ‘The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread,’ in his subsequent book ‘American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.’ We decided if this was the best pizza in America, we had better try it.”
After determining that it, indeed, was excellent pizza, Taylor knew that was what he needed to serve. “On the way home, I leaned over to my wife and said, ‘That was simply Neapolitan Pizza. I know how to make that.'"
The decision was made that day to import an open-flamed wood-fired oven from Italy, from where they also import their flour and tomatoes.
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Neapolitan pizza is known as the “father of all pizza” and has its origin story in Naples, Italy, where legend says King Umberto I and Queen Margherita enjoyed their first slice of pizza there in 1889. The Queen preferred her pizza with the simple combination of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, which is why that is now called the Margherita pizza. It also represents the colors of the Italian flag, with its red sauce, white cheese and green basil.
“Believe it or not, the Margherita is our most popular [pizza],” says Taylor. “After that, of course, comes pepperoni. Then, anything with Graziano’s sausage is always popular. We have a wonderful homemade white sauce that is also very popular. It’s not the alfredo that you often find on white pizzas. It’s loaded with garlic and onion, and that’s all I can say about it. We’ve had another pizzeria try to, ahem, ‘acquire’ the recipe. We keep it closely guarded.”
Pyra Pizzeria was named the 2022 Des Moines Radio Group Des Moines’ People’s Choice Award Gold Best Pizza winner, which just goes to show it’s never too late to start (or perfect) a new career.
Address: 729 Main Street, Norwalk
Phone: (515) 981-5353
Distance from downtown Des Moines: 8 miles
Hours: 4:30-8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Sunday. It is closed between 1:30-4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
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Besides pizza: Pizza isn’t the only thing they serve (although trying it is an absolute must). “We also serve an assortment of oven-baked sandwiches, artisan salads and a homemade lasagna that we make with Graziano’s sausage,” says Taylor. “We also have a very popular gluten-free crust as well as something we call our ‘keto bowl' – a pizza without the crust. Homemade apple crisp, brownies and a little something we call our ‘grasshopper’ dessert. I won’t try to describe it. We go through a lot of those!”
The name: The original name of the settlement now known as Norwalk was Pyra. “We really didn’t have a name picked out until very late in the process. A close friend of mine suggested we name it Pyra because of the historical value of it. I wasn’t crazy about the name at first, but then another person messaged me on Facebook suggesting the same name. We decided to go with it,” said Taylor.
Drinks: Pyra keeps 10 beers on tap, including a few local beers like Firetrucker’s Burnout Brown and Peace Tree’s Red Rambler. They also serve beers by the bottle or glass and an assortment of wines by the glass or bottle.
While you're there: With gas prices what they are, Pyra Pizzeria is a perfect “getaway” that won’t even cost you a tank of gas. Norwalk is close to Des Moines amenities like Blank Park Zoo and a short jaunt from downtown but has its own lures too. Get away from city life and head out to Rose Farm on 25 sprawling acres. Take a class, pick a bouquet of flowers, do a little yoga, taste some fresh honey or take home farm-fresh eggs. Find all Rose Farm has to offer at rosefarmstead.com.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Norwalk's Pyra Pizzeria's menu includes Neapolitan-style pies