Detroit-style pizza is a rectangular pizza with a thick crispy and chewy crust. It is traditionally topped with Wisconsin brick cheese, then tomato sauce layered on top of the other toppings (rather than directly onto the dough). This style of pizza is often baked in rectangular steel trays designed for use as automotive drip pans or to hold small industrial parts in factories. The style was developed during the mid-twentieth century in Detroit before spreading to other parts of the United States in the 2010s. The dish is one of Detroit's iconic local foods.
|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||Detroit, Michigan|
|Main ingredients||Pizza dough, tomato sauce, brick cheese|
The pizza was developed in 1946 at Buddy's Rendezvous, a former blind pig owned by Gus and Anna Guerra located at the corner of Six Mile Road and Conant Street in Detroit. Sources disagree whether the original Sicilian-style recipe was based on Anna Guerra's mother's recipe for sfincione or on a recipe from one of the restaurant's employees, Connie Piccinato. The recipe created a "focaccia-like crust" with pepperoni pressed into the dough to "maximize the flavor penetration". The restaurant baked it in blue steel pans available from local automotive suppliers, made in the 1930s and 1940s by Dovers Parkersburg and used as drip trays or to hold small parts or scrap metal in automobile factories, because baking pans available at the time were not appropriate for the dish. Some 50- to 75-year-old pans are still in use.
The restaurant later was renamed Buddy's Pizza. In 1953, the Guerras sold it and opened the Cloverleaf in Eastpointe, Michigan. Former Buddy's employee Louis Tourtois founded Loui's Pizza in Hazel Park, Michigan. National chain Jet's, local chain Shield's, and Luigi's the Original of Harrison Township are other locally-notable restaurants serving the style.
Buddy's Pizza chief brand officer Wesley Pikula, who started at Buddy's as a busboy in the 1980s, said that he had never heard the term "Detroit-style" before the 1980s when a trade magazine used it, and that even afterward it was seldom used except in national trade articles. As late as 2007, some local media were referring to the style as "Sicilian-style". Some makers of Detroit-style pizza in other areas questioned whether to call their pizza by that name, as "sometimes people have negative thoughts about Detroit."
Detroit-style pizza was popular throughout the Detroit area but until the 2010s was not often found at restaurants outside the area. In 2011 two Detroit brothers opened a Detroit-style pizza restaurant in Austin, Texas, using the "Detroit-style" name as a point of differentiation. In 2012, a New York restaurateur created a pizza he called "Detroit-style", though he had never visited Detroit, using focaccia dough, mozzarella, and ricotta.
In 2012, local restaurant cook Shawn Randazzo won the Las Vegas International Pizza Expo world championship with a Detroit-style pizza, and according to pizza educator Tony Gemignani, the reaction was immediate. "After he won, I must have had six phone calls from operators, from guys who are big in the industry, saying, 'Give me a recipe for Detroit. How do I figure this out?'" Randazzo started a training and certification program to teach others in the industry to make "authentic Detroit-style" pizza. By 2018, he had trained 36 restaurateurs from the US, Thailand, and South Korea. By 2019 a restaurant in Canberra, Australia was serving the style. By 2019, the San Francisco Bay Area also experienced interest and growth as well. Montreal, Canada has a restaurant that began serving the style in 2020, describing that Detroit-style pizza is “everything we love about pizza, a long dough fermentation mixed with a combination of soft, chewy, and crunchy textures."
According to Serious Eats, "in early 2016 or so, everyone seemed to be talking about it or writing about it or opening up restaurants devoted to it." Trade journal Pizza Today wrote in 2018 that "Perhaps no pizza style has entered the public consciousness in quite the way that Detroit-style pan pizza has." They credited Randazzo's International Pizza Expo win with "rock(ing) the pizza world". Trade journal Restaurant Hospitality said the style had become popular on Instagram.
In 2019, Esquire called the style "one of the hottest food trends across America", and both the Detroit Free Press and Eater said Detroit-style pizza was "having its moment". Eater wrote that pizzerias offering the style were spreading across the US, but that the new pizzas were actually different:
On one side are the local Detroit pizzerias and restaurants devoted to their normcore, family-restaurant roots with toppings directly on the crust, a layer of processed brick cheese, and sauce on top. Then there are the "artisanal" square pizzas, with their aged doughs, organic toppings, unprocessed cheeses, and "frico" crust. These designer square slices are sometimes baked in a wood-fired oven and often served on Instagrammable metal trays in perfect lighting — a departure from the checkered tablecloths, no-frills boat drinks, and generous displays of bocce ball plaques at Buddy's. And in this new era of Detroit-style pizza, it's this photogenic version that many Americans are discovering first.
Eater said the artisanal trend was slow to catch on in Detroit. Along with the Coney Island hot dog and the Boston cooler, the traditional Detroit-style is one of Detroit's iconic local foods.
Detroit-style pizza is a deep-dish rectangular pizza topped with Wisconsin brick cheese and a cooked tomato-based sauce. The dough typically has a hydration level of 70 percent or higher, which creates an open, porous, chewy crust with a crisp exterior.
Traditionally the toppings are layered with the cheese below the sauce. Pepperoni is often placed directly on the crust, and other toppings may go directly on top of the cheese, but the cooked sauce is always the final layer and is applied in dollops or in "racing stripes," two or three lines of sauce. Some recipes call for the sauce to be added after the pizza comes out of the oven. The style is sometimes referred to as "red top" because the sauce is the final topping.
The cheese is spread to the edges and caramelizes against the high-sided heavyweight rectangular pan, giving the crust a lacy, crispy edge. According to trade journal Pizza Today, the cheese being piled high right to the edges and against the pan is "the key to this pizza".
GQ magazine food critic Alan Richman included Buddy's Pizza and Luigi's the Original among his 2009 list of 25 best pizzas in America. A Detroit-style pizza made by Randazzo, who was then working at Cloverleaf, won the 2012 Las Vegas International Pizza Expo world championship. The Chicago Tribune reviewed Jet's Pizza in 2013 and rated it very highly. In 2019, The Daily Meal website named Buddy's the best pizza in Michigan. The Detroit Free Press named the Cloverleaf its Classic Restaurant of 2020. In 2016, the New York Post called it "the new hipster horror". A writer for Delish originally from Chicago and now based in New York City provided a positive review in an article correspondingly entitled "What Is Detroit-Style Pizza? It's Way Better Than Your Deep Dish Or New York Slice".
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- Media related to Detroit-style pizza at Wikimedia Commons