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.