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  • Writer's pictureJeff Mauldin

The History of Detroit Style Pizza

Detroit is what it builds. 75 years ago a new style of pizza was born in the Motor City and it was different. What makes a pizza Detroit-Style? The same things that made Detroit – a little bit of ingenuity, some stubborn spirit, and a whole lot of heart. It’s what sparked an original idea back in 1946 to take a steel auto pan and create something new.

Detroit-style pizza, a descendent of Sicilian-style pizza, traces its roots to one man – Gus Guerra. In 1946, Gus owned what was then a neighborhood bar, Buddy’s Rendezvous, when he decided he needed something new for the menu. He enlisted the help of his wife, Anna, who borrowed a dough recipe from her Sicilian mother. The Sicilian dough, topped with cheese and tomato sauce, would become the model for pizza in Detroit.

The key ingredient in a proper Detroit-style pizza isn’t something you eat – it’s the pan. The characteristics of the pizza – the soft and airy square crust, the crunchy exterior, the caramelized cheese that edges the pizza – are all due to the deep pans in which the pizzas are baked. The pans are a thick steel that is more similar to a cast-iron skillet than a cake pan. Legend has it that Gus got his initial batch of pans from a friend who worked in a factory that used the pans for spare parts. Detroiters have been fighting for corner slices ever since.

The classic Detroiter – cheese, sauce, and pepperoni on top so that it crisps up and chars slightly.

“Detroit’s pizza scene is one of the most exciting in the country,” said Food & Wine Magazine.

Detroit-Style Pizza is recognizable by its iconic square shape and crunchy, cheesy corner slices. Influenced by square Sicilian-style pizza, Detroit-Style Pizza consistently impresses pizza lovers due to its unique layering structure and stunning presentation.

The style flips traditional pizza on its head by beginning with double-proofed dough perfectly fitted into a square pan – a process that allows the dough to rise and be stretched twice – followed by the backward layering of toppings.

The pepperoni is placed directly on the dough allowing the rich flavors of the meat to be absorbed into the crust. Next, a blend of mozzarella and Wisconsin brick cheese is sprinkled across the pie before the other toppings. Finally, to finish off the unique look, two wide stripes of sauce are ladled across the top of the pizza after being baked to perfection.

“Detroit-Style Is Motown's Favorite Pizza,” said Pizza Marketing Quarterly.
“What makes it special? It’s a rectangular pizza with a thick, buttery crust that’s crispy on the bottom,” said Fodors Travel.
In 2016, Thrillist told their followers: “You’re not eating enough Detroit-Style Pizza.”

The Ria Pizzeria has been making Detroit-Style Pizza since 2018.


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