Grandma Bob’s is among Detroit’s most expensive pizzas. Is it worth it?

Sep 25, 2019 at 1:00 am
Sausage and pistachio pie.
Sausage and pistachio pie. Tom Perkins

For many, the crust is the dry, bummer conclusion to joyful bites of melted cheese, red sauce, and toppings that makes up pizza. Sad pieces of nibbled crust with a few dried sauce stains are so often left discarded on the plate — "pizza bones," as my sister calls them.

For years, pizzerias have sought to improve slices' final bites, and that's meant crusts slathered with butter, stuffed with cheese, coated in cajun spices or other things that really don't enhance them. However, there's an even better approach out there — making dough and crusts that everyone wants to eat, even if they're not butter-logged.

That's what Grandma Bob's manages to do. Its crusts are soft and slightly chewy with leopard-print char marks from its run in the brick oven — a perfect texture. The kitchen uses a three-day cold fermentation process, two types of high-quality flour, and a low amount of fresh yeast to produce what tastes like a sourdough crust. Though chef Dan DeWall says he's going for a hand-tossed pizza in the vein of Little Caesars — except good — Grandma Bob's makes about 15 Detroit-style deep-dish doughs daily.

The crust alone is enough for Grandma Bob's to stand apart in a crowded pizza market. Loui's has some of the nation's best pizza, while Supino and Pie-Sci are masters, and others like Buddy's, Shield's, PizzaPlex, Brass Rail, Motor City Brew Works, Avalon, and so on have staked out spots within a few miles of Grandma Bob's Corktown location across from Slow's Bar-B-Q.

Perhaps the only stumbling block at Grandma Bob's is the price — $17 for a 12-inch pizza is steep, and literally everyone I've talked with about the restaurant has brought up the price point. One gets a feeling that they're paying for the real estate on what's one of the hottest restaurant blocks in town. And if there's one thing for which I really don't want to pay any extra money, it's to sit on that block.

On the other hand, there's not much worse than the cheap Midwesterner who won't pay more for quality food. But that's not what's going on here. The issue is that there are also really good options elsewhere — by comparison, the 18-inch pizza I buy at Supino is $17, and it's a super well-made pie built with impeccably sourced ingredients. A large Loui's costs roughly the same as a 12-inch hand-tossed pie here, and it's several pounds heavier.

click to enlarge The Witch. - Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins
The Witch.

Is Grandma Bob's worth the cost in a city full of high-level pies? That's worth exploring.

It should first be noted that you won't be building a pizza. There's no topping list, but a roster of nine pizzas and rotating specials from which diners choose. That may seem annoying at first, but it's easy to get over, as there's something for everyone and no duds in the bunch.

I'm of the camp that finds Hawaiian pizzas to be a gimmick that for some reason stuck, but Grandma Bob's might make the only respectable Hawaiian pizza under the sun. That's partly because it didn't follow the template. Its Hawaiian pie isn't a flimsy triangle of awkward flavors, but a gritty and bright pizza with roasted pineapple, roasted onion, cilantro, and 'ndjua, a peppery, spreadable Calabrian pork salami with a strong presence of citrus and garlic. That's a smart substitute for the usual bacon or boring ham, and the cilantro ties the package together. All the pork on Grandma Bob's pies is made in small batches by its sister restaurant, Gratiot Avenue Provisions, and it's all awesome.

That's partly why Grandma Bob's also manages to do a simple pepperoni better than most as its substantial slices of pork pop with a blend of red sauce and honey. The sausage and pistachio is probably the most interesting pie on the menu. It's a gritty option with flavorful crumbles of housemade sausage, crushed pistachios, slightly sweet mascarpone cheese, shaved red onion, red sauce, thyme, and rosemary. It's the first time I've encountered pistachio pizza, and hopefully it won't be the last.

Grandma Bob's menu is heavy on vegan options — four of the nine can be made with Violife vegan or regular cheeses. Among those is the Big Mac pizza with two all-beef patties that are crumbled meatless Impossible Burgers. It otherwise includes the typical special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed crust. The pickles are incredible and also made by Gratiot Avenue Provisions.

click to enlarge Street Beet Dorito Crunch. - Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins
Street Beet Dorito Crunch.

The Street Beet Dorito Crunch tastes like a 1980s gringo mom pizza and is made with "fake ground beef," crushed sweet chili Doritos, shredded iceberg lettuce, spicy ranch drizzle, and taco flavored crust. It should be included in the conversation about Detroit's best pies. Meanwhile, the spinach and artichoke with black garlic, lemon zest mozzarella, and parmesan came in too high on the lemon and too low on the black garlic, which I didn't detect.

Aside from the pizzas, the menu holds two kinds of salads. The Caesar is served with a tangy cashew-based vegan dressing made with lemon, dijon, and more, and it's excellent. About one-third of the small space is taken up by the bar with a thorough beer list, wine list, and craft cocktails like The Witch, a fine sweet and savory drink with Citadelle Gin, Strega (an Italian herb liqueur) jalapeño syrup, and lemon. Cold Truth, a soft-serve ice cream company with vegan options, is parked inside and offers dessert.

This brings us back around to the question of whether Grandma Bob's is worth $17 for a 12-incher. When I first ordered at Grandma Bob's, I was fairly certain I wouldn't return if Metro Times wasn't picking up the check. There's just too much good pizza in town. But after trying nearly its entire menu, I'm sure I'll be back.

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