Hazel Park, Michigan: A Taste of Detroit at Loui's
In the days leading up to his Michigan wedding, my friend Amit had his priorities in order. He wrote me about my plans for the hours between scheduled festivities: "The best possible use of your pre-wedding down time," he said, was to experience his hometown pizza. "To be clear," he continued, "there's really only one, true, Detroit-style pizza: Buddy's. Which, for the record, is the greatest pizza on the planet."
But since Adam also traveled to Michigan this month and already got the scoop on Buddy's, I headed for a much-praised competitor, Loui's Pizza in Hazel Park.
I was glad as soon as I stepped in the building. My guess is not much has changed at Loui's since it opened in 1977, apart from the addition of a flatscreen TV. The tables are pink formica, the flowers are silk, and every surface is trimmed with straw-wrapped chianti bottles, dangling by the hundreds, each signed by a happy customer. Finish a bottle and sign your name to it, and you can leave your mark here, too. (Or skip the cheap chianti--the bar has a rotating microbrew on offer. Edmund Fitzgerald, the chocolaty porter from Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewing, is a great companion for Loui's decadent pie.)
The pizza here is hefty and rectangular, meant to get you through a frigid winter evening like a giant pan of lasagna would. It's baked in pans that resemble lasagna pans, which work well to crisp up the edges of the crust while still preserving tenderness.
We ordered a small tomato and cheese pie ($9) to start. The small is cut in four quadrants, so each piece has a crispy, buttery corner. The sides are a bit charred, though the bottom crust didn't show any spotting.
The crust is rich, almost cakelike, and tender-crumbed, with a crisp exterior layer. Each slice is slathered with an herbed, peppery tomato sauce and topped with a seeping puddle of tangy, salty cheese. (Our waitress told us that no mozzarella is involved; instead the pies are topped with secret blend of two other cheeses. Provolone? Monterey Jack? I couldn't convince her to give up the goods.)
This pizza is definitely all about the gooey cheese and buttery crust, and you don't really need more than a slice or two to get quite full. With Detroit-style pizza, you can pretty much count on a carb-and-dairy coma. It's knife-and-fork food, since you risk losing all the cheese if you hold a slice at too steep an angle.
We tried a half-sausage, half-pepperoni pie as well. The pepperoni was buried under the cheese, thin cut with a little smokiness and just a hint of spice. I prefer for pepperoni to get a little charred in the oven, so hiding it under the cheese didn't really work for me. No one wants a soggy pepperoni.
The sausage was delicious though, loosely packed and fragrant with fennel. Each nubbin got nicely roasted and a little crispy on top. Usually I go for simpler pies, but since Loui's pizza is so thick, it probably could handle a little more in the topping department--some green peppers could be a good addition.
Would I fly to Michigan just for a taste of Loui's thick-crusted wonder? Maybe not, but if you find yourself in the Detroit area, Loui's has a steaming-hot slab of pizza (and a chianti bottle) with your name on it.