If you’ve bitten into the crust of a Cloverleaf pizza, you notice the difference. It doesn’t come with the usual chewy tug of regular pizza dough. It’s a thin, pastry-style crust that is at once tender, pliable and sturdy. It doesn’t shatter like a cracker, but it’s got crunch. There’s no tossing aside these crusts.
The Cloverleaf itself also is a Tacoma institution. The restaurant and tavern is celebrating 50 years of pizza this week. Tomorrow, they'll have guest bartenders and a band will play Saturday. Check the Cloverleaf's Facebook page for ongoing specials.
The story of the Cloverleaf crust goes as deep as a Chicago pie. The tavern opened in 1951, but it wasn't until a decade later that the pizza was introduced. Larry Turco brought the original pizza dough recipe to Cloverleaf Pizza in 1961. In 1971, Turco sold his interest in the restaurant to Lennard Manke, who owned the restaurant until 2004.
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The current owner, Debbie Manke, Lennard’s daughter-in-law, told me a bit about the history of the Cloverleaf dough when I wrote an article two years ago about Stonegate Pizza owner Jeff Call. Call’s uncle, Larry Turco, came out of pizza retirement to create the Stonegate pizza dough using Turco’s old Cloverleaf recipe. I spoke with Call earlier today and he told me that although Turco doesn't work in the restaurant business anymore, when he's not snowbirding in Arizona in the winter, he visits the Stonegate every Wednesday for pizza. Turco is now 90 years old, about to turn 91.
Today’s Cloverleaf dough is slightly different from the one Turco introduced, but it’s Turco’s doughy offspring.
“There was no written recipe and each person was verbally trained by another to make the dough,” said Debbie Manke. “I took an entire year to create a recipe that combined all the others, so now everyone makes it the same, and we use a consistent recipe.”
What makes it such a good crust? The texture. It’s a sticky dough that sits for a day, resulting in better flavor and texture.
My favorite Cloverleaf pie is mushroom and pepperoni. I like the crispy crust. I call it the Turco crunch.
Cloverleaf Pizza & TavernWhere: 6430 Sixth Ave., TacomaInformation: 253-565-1111, cloverleafpizza.comHours: Serving lunch and dinner daily. (Note: family dining is restricted to dinner on weekdays, but lunch and dinner on weekends.)
Stonegate PizzaWhere: 5419 South Tacoma Way, TacomaInformation: 253-473-2255 or Facebook here