Detroit has more to offer the culinary world than you would think! During my past few trips there, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the most creative breakfast items, solid burgers and amazing Arabic food. In fact, what stood out the most was a simple but delicious pan-style pizza.
In the last 12 years, I’ve worked with the frozen pizza world as a developer, but I never encountered this unique style of pizza before. Unlike most other pizzas, the Detroit-style pizza crust is the best part. It’s crispy on the outside and edges, but chewy in the middle. The sauce is moderately applied, yet still moist and flavorful. A decent amount of cheese is allowed to brown and crisp in the corners along the edges. In fact, the crisp cheese is a hallmark characteristic of the Detroit-style pizza – often people’s favorite part.
Today’s Detroit-style pizza started in 1946 at a pizzeria called Buddy’s where they offered a Sicilian-style pizza. Over time, this pizza morphed to accommodate American taste buds and evolved into the Detroit-style pizza seen today. Soon locals and out-of-towners alike were lining up for a square (Detroit-style pizza is cut and sold by square count). It wasn’t long until its popularity grew, and copycat restaurants followed suit, solidifying what is now a distinct American style of pizza.
I’ve eaten pan-style pizza multiple times and while each had minor differences, all had the hallmark characteristics of a Detroit pizza:
- CRUST: Baked in a square or rectangular pan, the pizza’s dimensions can differ in length and width, but the height of the baked crust is about 1.25 inches. The pans are old and coated from years of oil baked into them. The crust is a flour-based dough, double proofed with a lot of oil. This gives it a crispy exterior and chewy middle. This crust is VERY similar to a Sicilian pizza called a sfincione, which is a crispy soft crust with tomato garlic and anchovies.
- SAUCE: The sauce can be anything, but traditionally it’s a mild-flavored, crushed tomato.
- CHEESE: The cheese is usually low-moisture mozzarella. Chefs can and do use other cheeses, but mozzarella is the primary cheese. All Detroit-style pizza has the cheese crispy and caramelized in the corners and edges of the crust by the pan.
- TOPPINGS: Both traditional and some non-traditional toppings are used. More often than not, the pizzas are built in what I consider a backward application: crust, meat (if any), cheese and finally, sauce.
If you haven’t tried Detroit-style pizza, put it on your culinary bucket list. I was a skeptic, but coming from a chef who travels the country looking for new and creative profiles, this old-style recipe should be considered an American classic.