Have Twins, Will Travel

Buddy’s Pizza

Detroit, Michigan – Let’s talk about “Detroit-style pizza.” This is the square pizza that I grew up eating, although we never ever called it “Detroit-style pizza” (and I’m still not sure that is actually a thing). The iconic Detroit restaurant Buddy’s Pizza takes credit for inventing this type of pizza, way back in 1946. In the early days, Buddy’s was not a pizza place, but a speakeasy, where all kinds of dirty business went down. But they made the transition to a respectable pizza place in the 1940s, and the rest if history.

Nowadays, there are outlets of Buddy’s Pizza all over the state. But the original location in the eastside of Detroit is still the classic spot, with black and white photos on the walls and bocce courts in the parking lot, a vestige of another time.

The founders of Buddy’s later opened up Cloverleaf, and another employee is responsible for Shield’s and Loui’s Pizza. They all served up square pizza with focaccia crust. These were the city’s most renowned pizza places, so I guess it is a “Detroit style.” That said, in other parts of the country (like Boston), they call it Sicilian pizza, so what makes Detroit-style pizza different?

Even though Buddy’s (and other places) has been making this type of pizza for nearly 70 years, it was never called “Detroit-style.” It was only in 2012 that a local pizza chef won the Las Vegas International Pizza Expo world championship with his recipe for “Detroit-style pizza”. The next thing you know it, it’s the hottest trend in the food industry. Nowadays, there are Detroit-style pizza restaurants all over the country. (Except Detroit, where there are just pizza places, serving the same square pizza they always served.)

After we visited Buddy’s this week, I did a little research to determine if Detroit-style pizza really is just the same thing as Sicilian pizza. Or is there something special that makes it unique to the Motor City? Here’s what I learned…

The Cheese

Buddy’s Pizza touts its “proprietary blend” of cheeses, which is mainly Wisconsin brick cheese, a mild cheese with a high fat content. And now all Detroit-style pizza recipes call for this midwestern specialty in some form. This is supposedly what creates the gooey goodness at the center and the golden crispiness at the edges–a hallmark of Detroit-style pizza. By contrast, Sicilian pizza traditionally uses a blend of mozzarella and parmesan, with a very different result.

The Pan

This is my favorite fun fact that I learned about Detroit-style pizza. Apparently, Buddy’s baked (bakes?) their pizzas in industrial steel pans that they procured from auto suppliers. These things serve as drip pans at the auto factory, but pizza pans in the kitchen! (Motor City, baby!) The drip pans are 8 x 10 inches or 10 x 14 inches. And they are steel rather than aluminum, although I’m not sure what difference that makes. Apparently, the steel is more durable and withstands greater temperatures, which makes them ideal for commercial use. But it does not really differentiate the pizza that comes out of them. In any case, Buddy’s used steel pans, so “authentic” Detroit-style is baked in steel pans.

So, there you have it, folks. I still have not eaten “Detroit-style pizza” outside of Detroit, so I can’t vouch for this culinary craze. But I can vouch for Buddy’s Pizza–a Detroit classic!