Hometown Hungers: Best Square Pizza Outside of Detroit
No need to motor over to Motor City for a slice of the famous square pizza. These spots across the country (and Canada) are serving their own versions of the cheesy, caramelized specialty.
Photo By: Jeff Hurst/Kingston Road Creative
Photo By: Sara Remington
A Square to Share
Detroit-style pizza proves that it’s hip to be square. Thick and chewy, this Motor City staple is known for its crisp, caramelized crust and distinctive shape. It may be reminiscent of Sicilian pizza, but this dish is all Detroit. Any authentic version will come slathered with deep red sauce atop a layer of melted mozzarella and brick cheeses. And the pepperoni is always tucked underneath the cheese, never on top. As for the dish’s special square shape? The pizzas are typically made in steel pans — the originals used to hold auto parts. A Motor City mainstay for at least 70 years, this Detroit-style pizza can now be found in other cities across the country — and beyond. Read on to find out where you can sink your teeth into a saucy, cheesy piece of square pie.
Emmy Squared, New York
Pizza has long been a shared love between the husband-and-wife team who own Emmy Squared. They started off making modern American-style pies at the aptly named Emily Loves Pizza, which has locations in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. But when it came time to set up sister shop Emmy Squared, this East Coast duo set their sights on Motor City’s signature style. They especially fell in love with the frico crust (that cheesy caramelized layer) and the light, airy dough. The pair did their research, acquired some steel pans from Detroit and set to work creating square pizzas capable of converting even native New Yorkers to the Motor City way. Diehard aficionados of Detroit pizza will notice one small change — the toppings are on top here, not tucked underneath like in the classic versions.
Brown Dog Pizza, Telluride, Colorado
For Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch, finding a way to bring his hometown favorite pizza to the West was a must, but with the altitude change in the Colorado mountains, it wasn’t an easy feat. After much trial and error — and a stint at the International School of Pizza — Smokevitch figured out how to bring Detroit-style pizza to Telluride. The square pizza is baked in the standard blue steel automotive pans to help create that crisp and caramelized crust. Smokevitch puts his own spin on the classic Detroit cheese combo, though, adding aged white cheddar to the expected mix of brick and mozzarella. As for the finishing touch? He keeps it totally traditional with a drizzle of red sauce atop all that wondrously molten cheese. This Detroit-style pie has proven to be so popular that Smokevitch opened a second pizza joint, Blue Pan, in Denver.
Union Squared, Chicago and Evanston, Illinois
At Union Squared, you won’t find the usual deep-dish that put Chicago’s name on the international pizza map. Instead, the minds behind this Illinois concept are serving pies inspired by Detroit’s distinctive style. Armed with a ton of research and custom-ordered pans from Motor City, the partners turn out a pie that sticks close to the Detroit recipe. For instance, they use a classic 60% moisture for the dough and keep those imported pans well-oiled to ensure super crisp edges. Even the secret blend of cheeses relies on those Motor City favorites: mozzarella and brick. To make things extra authentic, the restaurant offers Detroit’s classic “pop” drinks — Vernors and Faygo’s Rock & Rye.
Christopher Getchell knew he wanted to open a pizza place, but wasn’t set on which type of pie to serve. That all changed when he was experimenting with Sicilian-style pies and stumbled upon its descendant, the Detroit square pizza. Getchell enlisted the help of Shawn Randazzo, a Detroit-based pizzaiolo who was named World Champion Pizza Maker of the Year in 2012. Randazzo supplied the pans and guidance, but Getchell definitely brought his own touch to the Motor City tradition with toppings like ‘nduja, grapes, roasted corn and housemade chorizo. He does keeps the basics authentic, though, with a mix of mozzarella and brick cheese, a ladle of sauce on top and, of course, the caramelized edges.
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco
Detroit-style pies may just be the sleeper hit at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Award-winning pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani turns out square pizzas that are as authentic as they come. They’re baked at 550 degrees in gas ovens (using steel pans, of course) and come smothered with brick cheese and a splash of red sauce. In addition to his red top pie, which sticks closest to the classic, Gemignani also offers a less-conventional option. Known as the green top, this pizza is made with freshly made pesto instead of the traditional red sauce.
Via 313, Austin
Two brothers, Zane and Brandon Hunt, took their love for Detroit's square pizza to a food trailer in Austin, Texas, making them one of the first to offer this upside-down pie outside of Motor City. Their hometown pizza turned out to be a hit in the Lone Star State, with demand for their authentic Motor City pies fueling an expansion into an additional trailer and two brick-and-mortar spots. To ensure their pies remain on par, the brothers travel back to their favorite pizzerias in Detroit for research every year. One of Via 313’s most popular options is The Detroiter, which features smoked pepperoni under the cheese and natural casing pepperoni on top for an extra meaty flavor.
Loui Loui’s, Louisville, Kentucky
Motor City native Mike Spurlock moved to Louisville at age 11, but his love for Detroit-style pizza never waned. Spurlock’s passion eventually fueled a pizza-making hobby, which he kept up even when working as a finance professional. In 2013, Spurlock’s one-time hobby became his official career when he opened Loui, Loui’s—a pizzeria with a name that’s a nod to both its Louisville location and the Detroit pizza shop Loui’s. Spurlock imports his cheese straight from the Detroit area, though he won’t reveal the exact combination used in his pies (75% is brick cheese, but the rest is a secret). He uses the standard blue steel pans and deck ovens, but veers a bit from tradition when it comes to the sauce. Spurlock favors San Marzano tomatoes, which makes his version a little less sweet than the typical Detroit sauce. You can taste it on every square, as each piece gets a generous ladleful after the pie is cooked.
Pi Squared Pizza, Hendersonville, North Carolina
The flavors of Detroit have found their way to the Southern city of Hendersonville via Pi Squared Pizza. Owner Karen Rampey isn’t a Motor City native, but she fell in love with Detroit’s upside-down pizza. Rampey knew she had to bring this delicacy back home with her, so she started making the pies herself, even tracking down those traditional steel pans for that touch of authenticity. The Motor City vibe extends to the restaurant’s decor, with mug shots of Michigan-born celebs such as Madonna and Kid Rock adorning the walls. Rampey doesn’t follow the Detroit style to a tee, though, as she takes liberty when it comes to the pizza toppings. Alongside the standard pepperoni and plain cheese, you’ll find kale, Mission figs and other beyond-basic options on the menu.