Detroit’s signature square pizza style is like an especially deep-dish Sicilian pie with crisp, incredibly thick crust that’s often formed from the process of twice-baking it in square pans brushed with oil or butter. Invented in 1946 at Buddy’s Rendezvous (now Buddy’s Pizza) in Detroit, you may think that this regional style is just confined to its home territory, but it’s been growing in popularity recently; California pizza royalty Tony Gemignani serves his version on the menu at two of his restaurants, and Austin’s Via 313 specializes in the style. We suggest, however (being the food advocates that we are), that fans of this style track down the real deal. With that in mind, here are our picks for the best pizza in Michigan:
The region’s signature style was supposedly all started at Buddy’s Rendezvous in 1946, a neighborhood tavern that had been run for a decade by owner August “Gus” Guerra. Since 1953, Buddy’s has had several owners: Gus first sold Buddy’s to Jimmy Bonacorse and Jimmy Valenti, and opened Cloverleaf. They in turn sold it to Billy and Shirlee Jacobs in 1970 (their son Robert Jacobs is at the helm now). However, the different stewardships have yielded the same result — a passionate following for cheesy, chewy pies — the difference being that there are now 10 locations (with the 11th in the works) and the rest of the country is finally starting to catch up. Just a few years ago, Alan Richman of GQ singled out Buddy’s as one of the 25 best pizzas in America, and it came in at #69 on our 2014 compilation of the 101 Best Pizzas in America. You’re going to want at least two pies here: the cheese pizza (four or eight squares) from the Detroit's Original Square Pizza collection, and the signature Detroit Zoo pie from the Motor City Pizza Collection: Motor City Cheese blend, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, pine nuts, tomato basil sauce.
Mani Osteria & Bar, which Food & Wine noted as one of America’s Best New Pizza Places in the Midwest, is the brainchild of Ann Arbor native Adam Baru. After working under restaurateur Danny Meyer and two Food Network Iron Chefs – chef Morimoto and chef Jose Garces, Baru returned home and reinvented a rent-to-own furniture store into what some have started calling one of the country’s best Italian restaurants. One reason why? The beautiful leopard-spotted crusts around the edges of the 12-inch Neapolitan-style pies churned out of Mani’s wood-fired ovens. There’s a clam pie (in case anyone thought New Haven had cornered this market), an interesting burrata and balsamic pizza, and nuanced pies that use ingredients like scamorza, chile pesto, and black truffles, but the pepperoni is the Mani signature that most patrons order.
It may not have invented Detroit-style pizza (that's generally attributed to being born at Buddy’s) but Niki’s, located in the heart of Detroit’s Greektown district, sure knows how to make it well. For a very respectful nod to its neighbors, try Niki’s cheese pie with feta. The edge gets that thin quasi-fried crispiness characteristic of the style while the rest is comfortingly soft, and there’s a creamy tanginess that the feta adds to cheese.
Sometimes it’s best to let a place speak for itself. This is the case for Michigan institution Cloverleaf Pizza, which notes: "In 1946 pizza wasn’t being served at many places in Detroit, but soon many took their first bite of what is now famously known as Detroit-style pizza when Cloverleaf founder Gus Guerra and his wife Anna (Passalacqua) first introduced her mother’s recipe — the thick-crusted, square pie topped first with a layer of cheese followed with a layer of tomato sauce — at their first bar Buddy’s Rendezvous. Gus Guerra sold Buddy’s in 1953 along with his pizza recipe and purchased Cloverleaf Bar in East Detroit, now known as the City of Eastpointe. Cloverleaf has grown from a small neighborhood bar which Gus described as looking like “a little white farm house” into the Eastside institution it is today." Although they have 13 mouthwatering specialty pizzas, order pepperoni, the locals’ favorite.
Some might say that TOMATOES APIZZA owner Mike Weinstein is a Connecticut food ambassador to Michigan; even the eatery’s website states “When you’re inside a TOMATOES APIZZA location, consider yourself to be visiting ‘an Embassy of New Haven.’” That’s because after graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, Weinstein studied how to spin great pies from pizza legend Lou Abate of the famous Abate’s Pizza in — you guessed it — New Haven. The chef isn’t afraid to divulge his secrets, as he freely details exactly what makes his pizza so special: they import pecorino Romano and then age it, grind it, and age it some more. When they cheese is at its peak in flavor, they add chopped fresh oregano, and then sprinkle this mixture on each pie just before it is baked.
There are two TOMATOES APIZZA locations in Farmington Hills; one has a brick oven, and the other has a coal-fired oven, a pizza-firing technique that Weinstein is credited for bringing to Michigan. If you visit the more traditional brick oven outpost, try the local-favorite Naples Sampler that’s one quarter of their classic recipe with one topping of your choice, one quarter white, one quarter green, and one quarter with fresh mozzarella. Want to try his coal-fired oven technique? Be sure to taste either their white pie or a classic with pepperoni.