Unless you're lucky enough to hail from Detroit, in which case you already know.
You never forget your first Detroit-style pizza. Mine was at Buddy's, one of the oldest pizzerias in the Motor City. Sitting at the corner of Conant and McNichols, deep inside a particularly hard-bitten section of Detroit's East Side, Buddy's, housed in a squat nothing of a building, is distinguished only from its sparse surroundings by the fact that it remains in business.
Beginning life as a speakeasy in the 1940's, founder Gus Guerra began selling unique, square pies, and the rest is decades of history. Past the fence, the security guard in the parking lot, past the cinderblock walls, you enter via a long tunnel, decorated with yellowed news clippings. In a room without windows, guests are warmly welcomed; there's probably a group of people down at the bar, no matter what time of day—it's best to head down in that direction.
I had no idea what to expect on the first visit, I only knew I was eating at one of the Detroit's best pizza places—what came out was something like the Sicilian pies that I grew up around in New York, but made, apparently, with double the attention to detail.
The airy, savory crust supported a generous but sensible amount of brick cheese, the whole thing buried under a pool of fragrant marinara. The cheese seeped out, baking into the porous crust, resulting in a crispy little miracle. The pie was composed of four, considerable squares, served up in a deep but not too deep, angled, industrial-strength steel pan—these were appropriated, originally, from the local assembly plants. I think I paid just a few bucks, and distinctly remember sharing. On subsequent visits, I knew to order a whole pie for myself. Or, at the very least, to double up and order the eight slice edition.
Buddy's at Conant and McNichols is not only still there; it has, over the years, spawned a whole chainlet of Buddy's locations, scattered around Metro Detroit like so much shredded cheese. (The original, you will probably not be surprised to learn, is by far the best.) There are other places for Detroit-style pies that are terrific, too—the deliciously vintage Loui's, just to the north in the working-class suburb of Hazel Park, for starters. There's Cloverleaf, another old-time brand that's morphed into a chainlet, you can even just order takeout or delivery from places like Jet's Pizza. (Your first pie, however, should not be eaten on a couch at home—it should be experienced at Loui's, or Buddy's; when eating a piece of Detroit history, it's best to be surrounded by more of the same.)
Or, maybe you can't get to Detroit, at all—after years of people asking why isn't this a thing, everywhere, Detroit-style pizza has kind of become, well, a thing. Not everywhere—we're not so lucky, not just yet—but in some surprising places, absolutely. Here are just a few of the best places to try one of the best pizza styles in the world, whether the world knows it (yet) or not.
Via 313 Austin
Back before Detroit-style became a thing, two brothers parked a trailer in East Austin and started slinging the pies they loved as kids, growing up in Detroit. That was in 2011—today, they've expanded to two trailers, plus two brick-and-mortar shops.
Union Squared Chicago
In the Loop's excellent Revival Food Hall, and also up near the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, twin outposts of Union, a Neapolitan-style pizza joint, bake up some of the best Detroit-style pizzas you'll find anywhere, including Detroit.
Emmy Squared Brooklyn
Emily and Matthew Hyland took New York by storm with Pizza Loves Emily, a pizza and burger joint with restaurants in both Brooklyn and Manhattan; this spinoff is all about the Detroit pie, but with significant upgrades.
Blue Pan Pizza Denver
They offer a range of styles, but this established neighborhood spot (make that spot, there are two locations) offers up one of the least pretentious (and therefore, one of the most authentic) versions of a Detroit pie you'll find outside of Michigan.