The lore surrounding the uniquely Detroit square deep dish is about as ubiquitous to the city’s food culture as that of the Coney. We love to debate over who does it best, what constitutes the real thing, and have found plenty of variations — from the intriguing Bangla style on the Hamtramck/Detroit border to the national chains that have brought those crispy, cheesy corners to the masses. Question is, where did it all begin, and how could something as simple as an otherwise ordinary bar food transcend into the cultural phenomenon we know today — not just here but, in many respects, across the country?
To answer that, we turn to the undisputed birthplace of the Detroit square — Buddy's Rendezvous on McNichols and Conant, founded by Gus Guerra in 1936. Around ten years after the end of World War II, the speakeasy was looking to add food to keep drinkers on their barstools, so Guerra settled on Sicilian-style pizza. Blue steel rectangular-shaped pans that had previously been used to store nuts and bolts at a factory were the pizza pans. They never rust and, like a seasoned cast iron skillet, they're never actually washed, meaning bits of previous pizzas permeate throughout the dish. Unlike other pizzas, toppings are placed directly on the dough, followed by an ample layer of cheese that caramelizes against the pan, creating that famous crunch. Then more toppings are added and finally sauce. If you come across another square that's not constructed in such a manner, it's simply not Detroit.
Visit buddyspizza.com for multiple locations.
What followed the birth of Buddy's was a surge of competitors, many of them created by former Buddy's employees themselves. There's Loui's in Hazel Park, founded by Louis Tourtois Sr., who had previously worked at the eastside eatery. Ask avid Loui's followers about how he got started and they'll tell you Tourtois departed Buddy's when it changed hands around 1970. That's when he left and took the recipe with him to nearby Shield's. There too, legend has it, he lost out on a partnership, so he took his deep dish knowledge and opened Loui's, a spot whose fans are die-hard loyalists. Enter again Guerra, who after selling Buddy's, opened Cloverleaf Bar and Restaurant in Eastpointe, serving, you guessed it, that same Buddy's recipe.
Loui's Pizza; 23141 Dequindre Rd., Hazel Park; 248-547-1711; louispizza.net.
Cloverleaf Pizza; visit cloverleaf-pizza.com for multiple locations.
Shield's Pizza; visit shieldspizza.com for multiple locations.
Other popular staples in the square genre include Green Lantern Lounge & Pizzeria in Madison Heights, started some 55-plus years ago by Thomas and Irene Vettraino. The couple bought an old farmhouse bar, creating a variation of that ever-familiar Sicilian-inspired recipe. This spot has since branched out to four locations that straddle both Oakland and Macomb counties.
See greenlanternlounge.com for multiple locations.
Beyond the east side is Amicci's Pizza, which has been delivering both Detroit squares and its own classic rounds to people's homes in Hamtramck and Detroit for more than 30 years. The delivery/takeout-only spot offers its pies with a number of twists, like the Greek (with feta cheese, spinach, tomato, olive, and black olive) and the Chicken Thai Pie (sweet and spicy ginger sauce, chicken red onion, red peppers, and mushroom).
See amiccispizza.com for locations.
Beyond Detroit, several independent square pizza shops have popped up in Austin, Texas, Brooklyn, New York, Las Vegas, and elsewhere. Michigan-based national pizza chains Jet's (founded in 1978 in Sterling Heights) and Little Caesar's (Garden City, 1959) have also jumped on the bandwagon, offering delivery and pickup renditions of the Detroit creation.