All Square: A History of Detroit-Style Pizza

We’ve found that if there’s one food Michiganders know and love, it’s pizza! And while the best pizzas in Michigan can be found all across the state, some may argue that “Detroit-style” pies top the charts. Today, guest blogger and pizza enthusiast Tony Sinicropi takes us on a historical tour through the pizza of Detroit.

Call it square. Call it deep dish. Call it whatever you want – just know that it is uniquely Detroit and definitely Pure Michigan.

Buddy’s “Detroiter” Pizza

Detroit-style pizza, a descendent of Sicilian-style pizza, traces its roots to one man – Gus Guerra. In 1946, Gus owned what was then a neighborhood bar, Buddy’s Rendezvous, when he decided he needed something new for the menu. He enlisted the help of his wife, Anna, who borrowed a dough recipe from her Sicilian mother. The Sicilian dough, topped with cheese and tomato sauce, would become the model for pizza in Detroit.

The key ingredient in a proper Detroit-style pizza isn’t something you eat – it’s the pan. The key characteristics of the pizza – the soft and airy square crust, the crunchy exterior, the caramelized cheese that edges the pizza – are all due to the deep pans in which the pizzas are baked. The pans are a thick steel pan that are more similar to a cast iron skillet than a cake pan. Legend has it that Gus got his initial batch of pans from a friend who worked in a factory that used the pans for spare parts. Detroiters have been fighting for corner slices ever since.

Armed with empty stomachs and a passion for good pizza, we embarked on a tour to trace the genealogy of Detroit-style pizza.

The Spirit of Detroit prefers his pizza square

Our first stop was Gus’ original restaurant – Buddy’s Rendezvous at 6-Mile and Conant. We went with the classic Detroiter – cheese, sauce, and pepperoni on top so that it crisps up and chars slightly. The sauce is what sets Buddy’s pizzas apart – the bright tomato sauce and hit of herbs act as the perfect complement to the salty pepperoni. With the bocce ball courts outside and a bar area lined with pictures of Tigers legends, Buddy’s is a landmark worthy of its reputation.

Next on our itinerary was Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant in Eastpointe, founded by Gus & Anna after they sold Buddy’s Rendezvous in 1953. Cloverleaf claims to carry on the original recipe that Gus developed at Buddy’s. The extra crispy edges on this pie received high praise from the group.

Our next stop on the lineage tour was Loui’s in Hazel Park – founded by a long-time chef at Buddy’s, Louis Tourtois, which explains the similarity between the pizzas at each location. Similar to Buddy’s, Loui’s is frozen in time with its checkered tablecloths and hundreds of empty Chianti bottles that hang from the ceiling.

Finally, we made it to the new kid on the block, Detroit Style Pizza Company in St. Clair Shores, run by Gus Guerra mentee Shawn Randazzo. After owning and operating a Cloverleaf location with his mother for 16 years, Shawn decided to branch out and put his own spin on the square pie and opened Detroit Style Pizza Company earlier this year. Shawn was recently crowned as the World Champion Pizza Maker of the Year at the 2012 International Pizza Challenge. After trying his “Margherita in the D” pizza, I can see why. The sauce made of crushed tomatoes and topped with fresh basil, roasted garlic, and red onion provided a nice change of pace from the more traditional places.

The great thing about visiting these places is that you can’t go wrong with any of them. Next time you are in the Detroit area, be sure to stop in and grab a slice of pizza history.

A born and raised Michigander, Tony runs the blog Great Lakes, Better Food, which chronicles his food adventures from all over the state. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and their dog, Lucy, who are both eager to accompany him on his adventures.

Salad Love in Pure Michigan

A sweet-savory salad of pear slices, bleu cheese, spiced walnuts and field greens dressed with tarragon shallot vinaigrette at Lulu's

George Hendrix, contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, might not look like your typical salad eater, but he can’t get enough at two of chef Mike Peterson’s restaurants—Lulu’s in Bellaire and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids.

Put me in a line up, ask a dozen strangers to pick out the salad eater, and I’m everyone’s last choice. I’ve got the body for bratwurst, but I have a taste for micro greens. On my most recent visit to northwest Michigan, I particularly enjoyed salads at Lulu’s in Bellaire and Siren Hall in Elk Rapids. Both restaurants are the creations of chef Mike Peterson.

More on the salads in a minute. First, a bit about Mike.

Lulu's has a sleek minimalist design, and is a must-visit for foodies in Bellaire.

His is a fairly typical story in this exceptional-food realm radiating outward from Traverse City to encompass the resort towns along and near Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse and Little Traverse Bays, the Leelanau Peninsula and the dozens of inland lakes. The story is: local boy or girl with a talent for food leaves to get a world-class culinary education; completes apprenticeships in one or more foodie heavens; gets homesick for blue water, golden beaches, a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, a mellow lifestyle; and comes home. In Mike’s case, the education came at the Culinary Institute of America and the apprenticeships took place in Paris and New York kitchens.

In 1993, Mike and a few partners opened Spencer Creek in Alden. Now closed, that restaurant served as the dress rehearsal for Lulu’s. Since 2001, the downtown Bellaire bistro, with a sleek minimalist design and decor, has been among the region’s must-go dinner destinations. The chef’s latest project is Siren Hall in downtown Elk Rapids, a few blocks from the Victorian-Era home where he and his wife, Rebecca, are raising their four kids.

Siren Hall has an emphasis on oysters and other seafood with a name that honors the mythical sirens of the deep.

Siren Hall is even more Spartan, with concrete block walls, exposed roof beams and other industrial touches. The look is the creation of Rebecca, another northwest Michigan native, who earned her design chops in New York City.

Now the food.

At Lulu’s, I enjoyed a sweet-savory salad of pear slices, blue cheese, spiced walnuts and field greens dressed with tarragon shallot vinaigrette. I chased my healthy repast with a cup—well, more like a soup bowl—of Lulu’s chocolate cherry cake ice cream. “Some of my cooks love making ice cream,” Mike explained.

I finished the evening down the street with an Americano at Moka, the coffee shop, bakery and restaurant owned by Mike’s brother Bill.

The concrete block walls, exposed roof beams and other industrial touches create the atmosphere at Siren Hall.

My special-of-the-day salad at Siren Hall consisted of warm haricot verts (or as they’re known outside of France, baby green beans) dressed with truffle oil vinaigrette, blue cheese and bacon curls. Marcona almonds provide an amazingly tasty crunch.

The salads are straightforward enough that, even if I have to go looking for the almonds (if you go searching, try Costco) and truffle oil, I think I can re-create them while waiting for the bratwursts to grill, right?

George Hendrix, freelance writer and former Travel Editor of Midwest Living, also contributes to Michigan Travel Ideas. From snowmobile adventures to the centennial of the Model T, he has written about Michigan for nearly 25 years.

 

Checking Out The Cooks’ House

Servers make diners feel like guests at the Cooks' House

On assignment for Michigan Travel Ideas, Kevin Miyazaki shares his experience photographing The Cooks’ House, a cozy restaurant with a focus on local, sustainable foods.

The Traverse City area takes its food and drink seriously, which is why it’s one of my favorite places in the whole country. The Cooks’ House is a perfect example of why I’m drawn to this part of the state. ­The restaurant combines fresh, local ingredients to create eye-catching dishes that please the palate and support the community.

Two years ago, chefs Eric Patterson and Jeremy Heisey allowed me to shoot in the kitchen of their original location, which meant squeezing myself between the stove and the sink. Empty plates, the aftermath of satisfied diners, were passed under my nose to a hardworking dishwasher.

The laid back, yet sophisticated bar at the Cooks' House restaurant in Traverse City

This trip, I’m going to shoot at their new location, just across the street from where I had my first encounter with their artful food. As I walk inside, I realize it’s not too much larger. Chef and co-owner Jennifer Blakeslee secures me a prime spot at the bar. From here, I take in the activity in the kitchen and the busy dining area, where there’s a nice buzz. The crowd is sophisticated but casual. I chat with a couple of serious foodies from Columbus, Ohio. They have heard good things about The Cooks’ House.

I can see (and smell) the reason for the rave reviews as I photograph entrees before servers sweep them away to hungry guests. A simple but popular arugula salad of caramelized onions, candied pumpkin seeds and goat cheese catches my eye.

Walleye with garlic scapes, bok choy, wild lambs quarters and Brownwood Farms creamy mustard vinaigrette.

Another server walks by bearing a plate of walleye with garlic scapes, bok choy, wild lamb’s quarters and Brownwood Farms creamy mustard vinaigrette that smells as delicious as it sounds. And my favorite thing to shoot: hand-cut pasta with smoked whitefish, snap peas and nasturtium flowers. The composition and delicate flower petals scattered across the plate draw my attention. Plus, I’m a fan of anything with homemade pasta. I soon realize that I won’t be able to leave without buying dinner.

As I shoot, I enjoy talking with the amicable staff. One of the line cooks is doing fantastic work, and it turns out he was the aforementioned dishwasher from my last visit. We joke about our previous close encounter. The sommelier joins the conversation, and we start talking about Sauvignon Blancs, a recent favorite of mine. She suggests a Semillon, a dry and sweet white wine.

The chefs prepare a meal of hand cut pasta with smoked whitefish, snap peas and nasturtium flowers.

I can almost taste the smooth, crisp wine. I’m convinced. I opt to occupy my bar perch a bit longer and taste one of the dishes I’ve seen and smelled all evening. The chefs prepare my meal of the pasta and arugula salad. I officially call it a night by pairing my food with a cool glass of the recommended Semillon.

Kevin J. Miyazaki is a Midwest-based magazine photographer. His food and restaurant photographs have appeared in Michigan Travel Ideas, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Midwest Living and Travel + Leisure.