Press Articles
Hip to Be Square: Detroit-Style Pizza Is Conquering America

by Omar Mamoon
Esquire

Over the last decade, Detroit-style pizza has grown from a local pride point to one of the hottest food trends across America. From coast to coast, pizza pros nationwide are baking up their version of the Motor City’s crispy, cheesy-crusted deep dish, and for good reason: It’s ridiculously delicious.

“Detroit is trending because it’s new to people,” adds Brian Spangler of Portland’s beloved Apizza Scholls. “12 years ago, it was Neapolitan, and then it was Neo-Neapolitan. There was about a 10 year run of that thin crust pizza explosion across the US and I think people are ready for something new.” (Spangler has been chronicling his work on a Sicilian/Detroit hybrid via Instagram.)

The crispy square slices are nothing new to those in the Motor City, who simply know it as “pizza.” The signature style originated in 1946 when August “Gus” Guerra started baking his mother-in-law’s dough recipe at his tavern, Buddy’s Rendezvous. Legend has it that Guerra—out of sheer genius or pure practicality—repurposed blue steel pans that were used for carrying automotive parts into baking pans. He placed his mother-in-law’s fluffy Sicilian-style dough in the rectangular pan and lined the top edge-to-edge with Wisconsin brick cheese. After it was baked, Guerra added two red “racing stripes” of marinara sauce, the final defining characteristic of a good Detroit-style pizza, and the local legend was born.

Beyond crispy, cheesy, greasy goodness, a lot of the credit for Detroit-style’s national ascent may go to a simple case of good timing. In 2010, legendary pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza held a class attended by two brothers from Michigan. A year later, those brothers opened VIA 313—a reference to Detroit’s area code—down in Austin, Texas. That same year, Gemignani launched a Detroit-style pie at his own spot in San Francisco’s North Beach.

In 2012, Shawn Randazzo, who spent over a decade running a couple locations of Cloverleaf (a franchise started by Gus Guerra and his wife in the ’50s) won 1st Place in the International Pizza Expo. He later launched his own pizzeria and consulting company, Detroit Style Pizza Co., which has gone on to train an entire generation of aspiring pizzaiolos in the fine art of DSP.

Even Little Caesar’s (which actually started in Detroit in 1959) got in on the action, rolling out a “DEEP!DEEP!” Detroit-style pie nationwide in 2013. One would think America’s third-largest pizza chain co-opting the trend would’ve marked the apex of Detroit pizza proliferation; however, the number of mom-and-pop joints throughout the country serving it up has only continued to rise.

Clearly, Detroit-style has become far more than a mere flash in the pan. But like Neapolitan and Neo-Neapolitan before it, it’s only a matter of time until the next big thing captures the hearts and stomachs of our fellow hungry Americans. At least for now, one thing remains certain: For pizza lovers, it’s hip to be square.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana – San Francisco, CA

Tony Gemignani, the 13-time World Pizza Champion, was perhaps the first person to sell Detroit-style pizza in California. He uses a mix of white cheddar along with the traditional Wisconsin brick cheese, which creates a crust that tastes like a grilled cheese sandwich in the best possible way.

Cellarmaker – San Francisco, CA

Few things in this life beat a pairing of pizza and beer, and at Cellarmaker, craft beer meets Detroit pies with toppings like garlic confit, black truffle, and hen of the woods mushrooms.

Apollonia’s – Los Angeles, CA

Like many of LA’s best restaurants, Apollonia’s is located in a random strip mall. On weekends, their off-menu Detroit-inspired pie, complete with crispy cheese-crowned edges, is available by the slice.

Blue Pan – Denver, CO

Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch’s Detroit-style pizza won him first place two years in a row in the International Pizza Challenge. Blue Pan gets their crispy caramelized cheese crust with a blend of brick, white cheddar, and whole milk mozzarella cheeses. (Fun fact: Smoke studied under the legend himself, Tony Gemignani.)

Via 313 – Austin, TX

VIA 313 was started by a couple brothers from Michigan who had moved to Austin and wanted to pay homage to their favorite food. After starting in a trailer back in 2011, they’ve since opened five locations, including a couple brick-and-mortars.

Paulie Gee’s Logan Square – Chicago, IL

Paulie Gee’s is cult pizzeria from Brooklyn that specializes in wood-fired pies, but they’ve been slowly expanding, popping up in cities like Columbus, Miami, and Baltimore. Exclusive to their Chicago location, they offer a Detroit-style Logan Square pizza with gluten friendly and vegan options for everyone.

Emmy Squared – New York, NY

Emmy Squared is the Detroit-style follow-up to the wood-fired pies at the neo-Neapolitan Pizza Loves Emily in Clinton Hill. Opened in 2016 by husband-and-wife founders Matt and Emily Hyland, there are two locations in New York City, and the couple opened a third in Nashville just last year.

Lions and Tigers and Squares – New York, NY

From the same folks behind the chain Artichoke Basille’s, they’re famous for piling on the pepperoni. But it’s their mustard pie with spicy mustard, strips of corned beef, and handfuls of sauerkraut that made them a viral phenomenon.

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