Restaurant Reviews – What is Detroit Pizza, and who does it the best?

So, hey? What is Detroit pizza?

One might ask.

Back in the day they used to build a lot of cars in Detroit and had a lot of steel 10 x 14-inch oil pans laying around. At some point, someone decided to make a pizza in one—and thus, a style was born.

Essentially, it is a combination of Chicago and straight Sicilian-style pizza. But the key features of a Detroit pizza are A) a fairly thick and light and crispy crust, B) two “racing stripes” of tomato sauce over the top with cupped pepperoni, and C) a fence of caramelized cheese around the border. To achieve this, heavily oil one of those pans so that the dough fries in it. Sort of like a crunchy, aerated focaccia.

The sauce and a layer of pepperoni come first. Followed by a s**t ton of cheese, then the racing stripes of tomato sauce underneath yet another layer of pepperoni with the skin on, sothey form little crispy cups that hold their own grease in the oven. It feels like a cousin to Chicago because some sauce is on the top, and it’s a thick crust affair. But also related to Sicilian because of the similar form factor and the fact that no pizza should be completely topped by sauce. To quote Jon Stewart, “Chicago-style pizza isn’t pizza, it’s a f***ing casserole.”

Of the four places I tried out in Tulsa, only one fit all of the Detroit-style criteria that I imagined. And I’ve never been to Detroit. Here they are listed, from the worst to the best.

Pizza Hut – Locations Pretty Much Everywhere.

Pizza Hut: The uncooked racing stripes are a thing. The rest is a lie. Photo credited to Pizza Hut.

The funniest part about Pizza Hut’s version was how it looked nothing like the stuff the actor Craig Robinson was pimping in the commercials. I’ve seen other videos from YouTubers where the cheese fence seemed more prominent. But everything I mentioned earlier; the pepperoni cups, as well as the very desired fence of caramelized cheese, were nowhere to be found on this pie. All of the pepperoni was precooked and limp. The “racing stripes,” though present, were poured on after the cook, which isn’t the way that works. And the crust, in addition to having a chemical aftertaste similar to the stuff you squirt on your popcorn at the movie theater, was basically The Hut’s regular rectangular crust.

Pizza Hut isn’t the worst thing in the world when you’re drunk, and especially when they deliver at 1 a.m. But this entry into Detroit-style was easily the lamest of the bunch.

Little Caesar’s – Locations Also Everywhere

Little Caesar’s Pizza: This is honesty in advertising. What you see is what you get. (Little Caesar’s with pepperoni.) Photo credited to Little Caesar’s Pizza.

I didn’t know that Little Caesar’s started as a Detroit-style place—the first location being founded in Garden City, Mich., in 1959. So, I was interested in how they stacked up. Of the two chains here, it is the cheapest (factoring delivery) and the better option on this list.

The dough tasted like it was made of actual things that didn’t end in “-ide.” But it still didn’t have the fried element I was looking for, nor the racing stripes of sauce—which struck me as odd when considering that’s a part of the aesthetic. Cuppy pepperoni was a thing, and they use a great cheese blend of mozzarella and muenster with an overabundance that led to the desired “fence” of crusty cheese. Overall, it is the best deal, since you can pick one up for eight bucks in a 10 x 14-inch size.

Elgin Park – 325 E. Reconciliation Way

Elgin Park: A thing of beauty. Elgin Park’s foray is making Detroit-style pizza. Always ask for extra cheese. Photo by Joe O’Shansky.

Elgin Park is a downtown place, which made its name brewing a variety of excellent beers and slinging New Haven-style pizza. Pick up one of their crowlers—a very large bottle that you can bring back and have refilled with even more beer for thirteen bucks (you will need help to drink it all).

The bar and restaurant mainly do New Haven-style pies—like a thin-crust New York-style but in an oval shape, and you can get clams or pickles on it if you’re into that sort of thing. The crust for their New Haven is excellent. Like I said somewhere before the crust is 75 percent of the deal, though I’ll likely never eat pickles on a pizza. Clams are all good. Located across from Drillers’ Stadium, Elgin Park does a Detroit-style pie as well.

Factoring delivery, it is the most expensive pie on this list for its size (diminutive, but hefty, like a bulldog). I had to go back for seconds, and the second time was the best. Make sure to get extra cheese because that made all of the difference in the cheese fence. Pretty sure it’s just straight mozzarella, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Otherwise, the cuppy peps were present, the form factor was fine, and the racing stripes were applied before baking. It’s fantastic. The only place it fell short is in that aerated element I keep mentioning, though this was a crispy one.

But it still felt like the restaurant’s standard dough, without that super crispy focaccia-esque thing. An excellent pie, and totally worthy of the cost, especially if you just go there and get it. The venerated cheese fence was insane. Delivery is always amazing in COVID times (as always, tip your drivers), but sometimes you just need to sit down and enjoy a location. Which leads me to…

313 Pizzeria – 10021 S. Yale

313 Pizzeria: This is how you do it. Run, don’t walk (or maybe just drive) to 313 Pizzeria. Photo by Joe O’Shansky

313 Pizzeria is the only one on this list that I felt compelled to not have delivered. Mainly because its location is way Southside at 101st and Yale and I’m downtown. I figured the pie would be dead, no matter how fast it got here.

Located in the Shops of Seville, 313 (named for a Detroit area code) is surrounded by bespoke stores, none of which I would indulge except for Glacier Chocolate, whose southside location is directly across from 313. I went there for dessert. The chocolatier’s gelato will bend your mind.

That’s not why 313 is my favorite on this list, though. It’s because the pizzeria nailed the crust. That fried, aerated crust. The cuppy peps and racing stipes were the best of the bunch, edging out Elgin Park in the last inning. The cheese fence could have been more assertive but asking for extra cheese on anything is never a bad idea. I’ll do that next time. I guess that’s the moral of this story. Always ask for extra cheese.

I only went with the pepperoni base model at all of these places. It seemed proper. They all offered different toppings for their Detroit-style pizzas—313 in particular. 313’s specialty pies are a list of puns from the Slim Cheesy (a thin crust affair with feta and white sauce) to the Red Wing (topped with buffalo sauce and chicken, bacon and cheddar). I don’t know if Aretha Franklin was a vegetarian but the fact that their veggie pie (consisting of mushrooms, red sauce, feta, black olives and green peppers) is named after her is just about the coolest thing the restaurant could do. All of 313’s topping choices are available with a Detroit-style crust, or thin crust.

Like Elgin Park, 313 also offers some hefty bar service. I’ve always been a fan of drinking a Coke with my slice, but that can also be a Jack and Coke, if you so desire, in addition to wine and a fine selection of beers.

The Detroit pizza game in Tulsa—if you’re looking for it—is strong. And everyone out Pizza’s the Hut.

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