116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Maybe the only way you can live in Iowa and publicly dismiss Casey’s pizza is by making sensational 34-yard catches for the Hawkeyes.
Nico Ragaini, the Iowa junior wide receiver who had a brilliant over-the-shoulder grab of a Spencer Petras throw last Saturday in a 24-14 win over Colorado State, knows something else besides how to run routes. He knows pizza.
Two weeks ago, Hawkeye cornerback Riley Moss told reporters he went with teammates/roommates to see Ragaini’s hometown of East Haven, Conn., a few miles from New Haven.
“That’s apparently the pizza capital of the world,” Moss said. “I’m not for that pizza because I’m a Casey’s fan and they think I’m dumb. So we always have that fight about pizza.”
Ragaini said Tuesday that Ankeny’s Moss has been his best friend since he got to Iowa City, a roommate for three years. But he doesn’t have much time for Moss’ pizza expertise.
“That was ridiculous,” Ragaini said. “I don’t even want to talk about that, Casey’s pizza compared to New Haven.”
And New Haven pizza is …?
“The best pizza there is,” said Ragaini, then he named four pizza places there that he called “ridiculously good.”
It’s here where I must stop and say Cedar Rapids-Marion has several excellent Metro- or Iowa-owned pizza places. Roscoe’s is my go-to, but I would never turn down Miguel’s, Fong’s, Leonardo’s, Tomaso’s or Zoey’s, and am always willing to expand that horizon with other locally-owned pizza parlors.
That said, I’ve also had plenty of Casey’s slices when the moment called for it. And when it didn’t.
New Haven pizza? Well, Cedar Rapids has a replica of that. It’s downtown’s Need Pizza, in business since 2015, which makes great pies it calls New Haven-style. I called Need co-owner Bob Wagner recently to tell him what Moss had said, and his reaction was much like Ragaini’s.
“(Ragaini) isn’t wrong,” Wagner said. “New Haven-style pizza is top-notch. We don’t have the large brick, coal-fired oven, but we have very generous portion sizes and look to have that charred crust that’s crispy, the cheese blends, the sauce recipe, the overall build of the pizza of New Haven-style.
“We’ve had a lot of people from New Haven come through. All are happy. We can’t duplicate it 100 percent, but we feel like we do it justice.”
OK, let’s talk some football. Ragaini has been known throughout his career here as a slot receiver, a short-yardage guy. But he had a 48-yard reception on a sideline route against Kent State. Then you saw the deep route he ran last Saturday, the adjustment he made, his tracking of the ball, and his focused grab.
“Hell of a catch,” Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said. “I don’t know how many guys in the country can make that catch, a really challenging deal.
“He’s really, really disciplined with his eyes and how he catches the ball.”
Ragaini got here because he knew — sort of — current Hawkeyes quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe. Both attended Notre Dame High School in West Haven.
Then-Notre Dame Coach Tom Marcucci, told O’Keefe he thought Ragaini was a Division-I player. O’Keefe agreed. After O’Keefe left the Miami Dolphins to return to Kirk Ferentz’s staff, Ragaini got his lone Division-I scholarship offer.
It wasn’t as if Ragaini didn’t have a prep resume. He had a state-record 222 career receptions, and was an all-state player in football, lacrosse and indoor track. Twice, he was the New Haven Register’s Male Athlete of the Year.
This week, Ragaini has secured a lot of tickets from teammates so about 40 family members and hometown friends will be making the five-hour drive to Maryland for Friday’s Iowa-Maryland game.
Wagner asked me to encourage Ragaini to make the drive up to Cedar Rapids sometime for some New Haven-style pizza. Ragaini sounded interested Tuesday when presented with the offer.
Hey, it’s not like Casey’s will lack for other customers.
“I've never tried Connecticut pizza, so I don't know what it's like,” Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum of Solon said, “but, you know, I do like Casey's pizza.”
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