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Story by Jacquie Goetz Bluethmann. Photos by Marvin Shaouni.
When GQ magazine ranked Detroit third among the great cities for pizza a few years back, (behind only New York City and Chicago) some people in this town still considered those fighting words. Talk to fans of the original Buddy’s in Detroit, Pizzeria Biga in Southfield and Cloverleaf in Eastpointe, and they’re resolute that their hometown pies aren’t just among the nation’s best, they ARE the best. “There is a lot of great pizza in the area,” asserted Molly Abraham, food critic for The Detroit News and Hour Detroit magazine. “It used to be that you had to go to a ‘pizza place’ to get deep-dish pizza. Not so anymore.”
From deep-dish and thin-crust to Neapolitan, Detroit and its environs can satisfy and delight even the most discerning of pizza palates. Metro Detroit boasts many top-rate traditional pizzerias and a variety of restaurants that, while not exclusively serving up pizza, toss together such mighty fine pies that they might as well roll out the red-checkered tablecloth and hire a host named Luigi. Here’s where we suggest you sample a slice or two or maybe more.
Dine in or carry out at this downriver favorite. A community fixture for 40+ years, Frank’s pies have extra-crisp thin crusts. Ask for “the cheese” when your pizza arrives and you’ll get a little bowl of grated Romano for sprinkling. The popular pizza burger pie is topped with hamburger meat, green peppers and onions, and insiders say you can’t go wrong with a Frank’s classic pepperoni.
Cloverleaf earned the distinction of “No. 1. Pizza in the Midwest” at the 2011 World Pizza Games, one among many accolades earned by the home of Detroit’s original deep-dish pizza. Gus Guerra, the man behind the first square pizza served at the original Buddy’s Pizza, opened Cloverleaf in 1953. The family-owned pizzeria has been an area gem ever since.
PIZZERIA BIGA, SOUTHFIELD & ROYAL OAK
Literally “biga” translates to yeast, the special ingredient that gives Pizzeria Biga’s Neapolitan piecrusts their signature chewy and flavorful qualities. Baked in a 900-degree, wood-burning, custom-built brick oven flown over from Naples, Italy, Pizza Napoletana crusts come out slightly charred. From there, patrons can order their pie red or white (with or without tomato sauce) and select from a long list of toppings that includes baby artichokes, roasted zucchini and fingerling potatoes.
LUIGI’S ORIGINAL, HARRISON TWP.
Wood-paneled walls and checkered tablecloths give Luigi’s the Old-World Italian feel you want your neighborhood pizzeria to emanate. A staple in the community for 50+ years, this Italian restaurant is most famous for its pizza. Its dough is hand-tossed into round crusts and crowned with sesame seeds. Crust can also be topped with Parmesan cheese, garlic butter or Cajun seasoning. The Gourmet Veggie (fresh broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, yellow squash, red onions, portabello mushrooms and grated Asiago cheese) has been featured in GQ magazine.
TOMATOES APIZZA, FARMINGTON HILLS
Named “Michigan’s Best Pizza” by Food Network magazine, Tomatoes Apizza was the first pizzeria to use a coal-fired oven in Michigan. With two locations in Farmington Hills, Tomatoes Apizza offers thin-crust white pizza (mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil), red pizza (red sauce and Pecorino Romano) and green pizza (mozzarella, spinach and garlic) all on a dough made from organic unbleached flour. Owner Michael Weinstein says, “Our pizzas are salty, greasy, chewy, burnt and crispy all at the same time.”
ALEX’S MARKET & GRILL, HOLLY
A gas station that doubles as a gourmet market and grill. Off I-75 at exit 101, Alex’s is known for its pizza sticks. Pizza dough is rolled out then stuffed with pepperoni slices and mozzarella cheese. The dough is then baked and topped with olive oil, garlic seasoning and Parmesan cheese. “It’s like biting into a pepperoni pizza rolled up,” said owner Steve Nannoshi. Specialty pizzas like Alex’s Ultimate are among the most popular traditional pizzas.
UNION WOODSHOP, CLARKSTON
The Detroit Free Press’ 2011 Restaurant of the Year, Union Woodshop, is a hot spot for locals, visitors and celebs alike. Handcrafted, wood-fired pizzas are part of the reason why. The You-Choose pizza allows patrons to top the base pizza with house-made maple bacon, prosciutto or Woodshop Italian sausage among an array of meats. Specialty pizzas include the Chipotle Shrimp (smoked shrimp, red onions, sweet corn and Lockhart spicy sauce).
GREEN ZONE PIZZA, GROSSE POINTE
Made-to-order, gluten-free pizzas are a staple of this new addition to the metro Detroit pizza scene, which garners its name from its “green” biz practices. The floors, counters and tabletops here are made from recycled materials, for example, and ingredients in their pies, like the Michigan Cherry BBQ Chicken, are organic and many locally sourced. Flour is purchased from Detroit’s famous Avalon Bakery. Green Zone takes advantage of a special oven technology that’s not only more energy efficient, but it can crank out a bubbling hot pizza in a mere three minutes. Deliciously fast.
PIZZA CUTTER, NORTHVILLE
Located in a former service garage, Pizza Cutter is a downtown Northville favorite, especially in summer when the patio is open for outdoor dining. Deep-dish, thin-crust and regular-crust offerings are available. Roll in on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and order your pie with the yummy wheat crust.
Coney dogs aren’t the only downtown Detroit dish known to satisfy a craving for super-tasty fare. Top-notch pizza is aplenty in the heart of the city. A few faves:
Buddy’s – Detroit
17125 Conant St.
Milano Bakery & Cafe
3500 Russell St.
Niki’s in Greektown
PizzaPapalis in Greektown
553 Monroe St.
2457 Russell St.
Town Pump Tavern
100 W. Montcalm
Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina
MGM Grand Detroit Hotel & Casino
Looking for a good pie on the fly? Fear not. Metro Detroit is chock-full of carry-out only pizzerias for all budgets and taste preferences.
24270 Novi Road
48932 Hayes Road
4326 Rochester Road
This late-night pizza place in Royal Oak is known for its gluten-free and vegan crusts and toppings. Open until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends, Hippie’s offers a variety of gourmet pizzas, thin, round, square and deep-dish.
121 E. 13 Mile Road
Various locations in Metro Detroit
Jacquie Goetz Bluethmann is a freelance writer, native Michigander and pizza enthusiast (is anyone not?). She blogs about life as a parent of two at www.MomMeetsBaby.com. She is thus especially interested in pizza places that offer kid-friendly menus and distractions! Follow her on Twitter @JacquieGoetz.
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Alex’s Market & Grill
Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant
Frank’s Restaurant & Pizzeria
Green Zone Pizza
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