United States of Pizza: Michigan
When many people hear the words Michigan and pizza, chances are they next think of Domino's and Little Caesar's. While those massive chains and a couple smaller local ones do play heavily into The Wolverine State's pizza scene, there's more to Michigan pizza than that, and a ton of good locally-owned pizzerias all over the state. We here at Slice have been lucky enough to eat some of Michigan's tastiest pies this year, so we were pumped to put together this edition of the United States of Pizza.
Here's our guide to a few Michigan favorites—add yours in the comments section!
Where to Eat Pizza in Detroit
Any discussion of pizza in Detroit has to start with the city's native pizza style. Detroit-style pizza looks like a cheesy version of Sicilian or bakery pizza with the sauce on top. Where the style really stands out is with the crust, which is often enhanced with lard or some other fattening agent. At it's best, the crust is chewy and, particularly where it touches the pan, wonderfully crisp.
Any discussion of Detroit pizza really has to start with Buddy's, where the style was invented over 60 years ago. Adam Kuban checked out the Livonia' Buddy's last year and added his endorsement to the words of GQ critic Alan Richman, who named the cheese pizza at Buddy's one of America's 25 best:
Buddy's pizza crust is one of the best in America, although it's unlikely you knew it was in the running for the championship. That's because Buddy's, as much a bar and sandwich shop as it is a pizzeria, specializes in Detroit-style square pizza, almost unknown outside the city. The crusts here are a little better than the competition's, and almost every pizzeria I tried in Detroit did them well. The interior slices on a Buddy's pizza are light, slightly crunchy, and extremely satisfying, but the goal in any Detroit experience is those slices at the four corners of the pan, where maximum blackening occurs. If you love the burnt ends on pork ribs, Buddy's isn't to be missed.
17125 Conant Street, Hamtramck, MI 48212 and 8 other locations; 313-892-9001; buddyspizza.com.
Open since 1977, Loui's is far from the oldest purveyor of the style, but I think there's a strong case to be made that it's the best. Mel Small of the Detroit Metro Times agrees. Slice Editor Maggie Hoffman visited Loui's in September and came away more than a little impressed:
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.)
23141 Dequindre Road, Hazel Park, MI 48030; 248-547-1711; louispizza.net.
Sylvia Rector at The Detroit Free Press included Cloverleaf among her top 25 pizzas in Detroit and her brief description makes clear why (in mouth-watering fashion):
The savory, long-simmered sauce, the cheesy-crunchy edges and the classic thick crust of a Cloverleaf pizza still delight us after all these years. It's so old-school—but so still-right.
40750 Garfield Road, Clinton Township, MI; 586-286-9030 and 28630 Harper Avenue, St. Clair Shores, MI; 586-445-2810; cloverleafonline.com.
About a year and a half ago, restaurant critic Sylvia Rector of The Detroit Free Press set out to rank the city's best pizzerias. After trying pizzas from more than 50 places, she decided that pizza tastes had evolved beyond the traditional heavy Detroit-style and selected Supino Pizzeria in Detroit's famed Eastern Market as the city's best:
Metro Detroit will always love its thick, square, Sicilian-style pizzas, but here as across the country, tastes are turning to lighter, more modern styles. The deceptively simple pies at Supino Pizzeria in Detroit's Eastern Market do more than follow the trend. They help define it. Owner Dave Mancini's hand-stretched crusts are wide, round, very thin and wonderfully crisp. His sauce is light, bright and fresh-tasting. And the cheeses and fresh-from-the-market toppings are applied judiciously, so the brick-oven pies are a sublime balance of flavors and textures.
2457 Russell Street, Detroit, MI 48207; 313-567-7879; supinopizza.com.
Adam Kuban followed in Alan Richman's footsteps last September to check out Tomatoes Apizza just outside of Detroit in Farmington Hills. Kuban said it served some of the best pizza in the U.S. and wrote:
The crust is a dead ringer for its New Haven progenitors—thin, crunchy-chewy, flavorful, and strong enough to stand up to the generous amount of sauce ladled on and mozzarella cheese laid atop it. There's perhaps a bit more sauce and cheese than you'd find on a native New Haven pie, but Tomatoes knows its audience; a more restrained pizza probably wouldn't play as well as it does with hardscrabble New Englanders.
29275 14 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48334; 248-855-3555; second location with a gas oven is at 24369 Halsted Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48331; 248- 888-4888; tomatoesapizza.com.
The team behind Pizzahunt.net reviews pizzas (primarily in Michigan and Texas) on a scale from one to five. The only place to get a perfect score thus far is Brioni's Pizzeria in Harrison Township. Pizza Hunter John writes:
With a little sesame seed action this crust rises above the competition, at least the competition that I have tasted. The sauce is fantastic, not too much spice or bite and in perfect balance with the tomato sauce. I am pretty sure that they use a combo of brick and mozzarella cheese that works great with the rest of the pizza. I had a pepperoni pizza that had the little arcade style pepperonis on it. The biggest difference between this pie and the pepperoni pies I have had in the past was there was little to no grease riding in the meat after it was baked. Not on the cheese and it didn't soak into the crust it was just gone. I came to the conclusion that there is a little grease sucking gremlin in the oven and all he gets paid to do is suck grease from the pepperonis before the pizza gets pulled out.
36643 Jefferson Avenue, Harrison Township, MI 48045; 586-468-0700; brionispizza.com.
Motor City Brewing Works
When USA Today wrote up great pizza in every state, they turned to Jaye Beeler of Arbutus Press, a publisher based in Traverse City, for his Michigan recommendation. Beeler reports:
With a nod to Greektown, Motor City Brewing Works' "Mary Did Have" pizza is a dazzling combination of olive oil, ground lamb, garlic, mint, tomato, pine nuts, baptized with feta, labne (a Middle Eastern yogurt cheese), cucumbers and za'atar spices. Tucked away in the back of a parking lot, John Linardos' Detroit brewpub is the kind of cool scene you wish for in your neighborhood.
470 W Canfield Street Detroit MI 48201; 313- 961-4303; motorcitybeer.com.
Serious Eater Lance Roberts lives in Los Angeles but is a native of the Detroit area. He reported via email that:
Pizza Papalis was always a real treat, especially the original Greektown location. It's stuffed Chicago-style and though it may not be able to go toe to toe with Art of Pizza, it's legitimately good stuff. They don't skimp on anything. Better any other deep-dish pie I've had outside the Chicago state line, and I've tried a bunch.
553 Monroe Street Detroit, MI 48226 and 7 other locations, 6 in Michigan and one in Ohio; 313-961-8020; pizzapapalis.com.
Roberts also has fond memories of Toarmina's Pizza, where he worked during high school and college.
I have a built-in bias...but Toarmina's Pizza has one great pie in their stable. It's called The Big Cheese and it's a 24-inch pizza that has a pound of pepperoni and three pounds of cheese. It might be an indictment on the regular pies there, but somehow this unholy monster ends up being the most balanced pizza on the menu. It seems like it must be too much of everything, but it ends up tasting just right. My dream every night I worked was that someone would order one and decline to pick it up—it would be breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week.
18610 W Warren Ave Detroit, MI 48228 and 13 other locations; 313-982-1424; toarminas.com.
Other Detroit pizzerias that have garnered some praise include Como's Restaurant (22812 Woodward Ferndale, MI 48220; 248-548-5005; Green Lantern Lounge (28960 John R, Madison Heights, Detroit, MI 48071; 248-541-5439; greenlanternlounge.com); Niki's (734 Beaubien Street, Detroit MI 48226; 313-961-4303; nikispizza.com); Shield's Pizza (1476 W. Maple, Troy. MI 48084 and 3 other locations; 248-637-3131; shieldspizza.com); Frank's Restaurant & Pizzeria (3144 Biddle St Wyandotte, MI 48192; 734-282-0512; and Sylvia's Super Sub Shop (4531 Allen Rd., Allen Park, MI 48101; 313-381-4930; sylviassubshop.com).
Where to Eat Pizza in Ann Arbor
New York Pizza Depot
The verdict: It was great. The sauce was thin and sweet. The crust was think and both had some tooth to it while at the same time a little crisp. In other words, the crust was perfect, not an easy feat. And the cheese and pizza was slightly greasy, which is what I think of for NYC pizza.
605 E William St Ann Arbor, MI 48104 and one other location; 734-669-6973; newyorkpizzaannarbor.com
Cottage Inn claims to have introduced pizza to Ann Arbor when it opened the doors of its first location in 1948. More than 60 years later, the place is still going strong. When the University of Michigan's Michigan Daily ranked local pizzerias based on their deliveries in 2002, 2004, and 2005, Cottage Inn came in at or near the top. Yelper Michelle C. writes that it's the little touches that make Cottage Inn stand out:
Cottage Inn's pizza is better than any other place's because of the sesame seeds on the crust. I will eat everyone's crust if they don't want it...I also love the parmesan here—it's the real good stuff and not the granulated "parmesan" that you shake out of the little jar. The individual flatbread pizzas are also good, which I've had on other occasions.
Silvio's Organic Pizza
Silvio Medoro was born in Binghamton, New York but raised in the Abruzzo region of Italy where he spent a good chunk of his life working in his father's bakery. The pizzeria offers 36 different toppings combinations, including a pie with tuna, capers, shrimp, clams, and crab legs, and another with fontina, fennel, smoked salmon, and mozzarella. His focus on organic and local ingredients (reportedly 75% local products in the winter and as much as 90% in the summer) is a big draw for some students at The University of Michigan. Silvio's popularity extends off campus too.
Kim of the Ann Arbor blog The Farmer's Marketer raves about the pizza:
[Silvio] says he prefers the "white" style of pizza over the red sauce kind, that "with white, you can let your fantasy go." Indeed, their most popular is the truffle pizza: fontina cheese, shiitake mushrooms, and white truffle oil. The words "rich and savory" were invented to define this pizza. I have found that the more unusual something sounds, the better it will be. Cases in point: potato pizza, grape pizza, pizza stuffed with tuna and hot pickled vegetables, fennel pizza, breakfast pizza with bacon and hard-boiled eggs.
715 N. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48104; 734- 214-6666; silviosorganicpizza.com
Looking for more pizza in Ann Arbor?
We've also heard good things about Hello Faz Pizza (2259 W Liberty Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48103; 734-741-7777; Backroom Pizza (605 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48113; 734-741-8296; and Anthony's Gourmet Pizza (621 S Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104; 734-971-3555); anthonysgourmet.com.
Where to Eat Pizza in Lansing and East Lansing
Lansing CityPulse, the state capitol's alternative weekly paper, declared in last year's "Best Of" issue that DeLuca's has the best pizza in town. Serious Eater omnomnom weighed in with a very strong endorsement of DeLuca's, saying it's the best pizza omnomnom had nommed on in Michigan—be sure to eat in rather than carry out.
2006 W Willow St Lansing, MI 48917; 517-487-6087; delucaspizza.com.
Relying on largely organic ingredients and a wood-burning oven, Pizza Pi reportedly dishes up some of the best pizza in East Lansing. CityPulse reports that owner Ken Targal is so detail-oriented that he shops for ingredients twice a day, built the oven himself, and throws out a lot of dough because it doesn't rise just right. Apparently, these efforts pay off in flavor:
If you stop into Pizza Pi along the Grand River corridor in East Lansing, you´ll probably learn a thing or two about what makes a fine tasting pie. In a town flooded with America´s favorite food, Pizza Pi is an island of high-quality pizza with choice ingredients and a sui generis oven.
551 1/2 E Grand River Ave., East Lansing, MI 48823; 517-333-6992.
Georgio's Gourmet Pizza
Georgio's may not be exactly gourmet, but the popular late night pizzeria has a large number of fans, including the now defunct Mid-Michigan Dining blog. In 2009, four writers from CityPulse conducted a tour of six Lansing slice shops and picked Georgio's as the best in town.
120 Charles Street, East Lansing, MI 48823 and one other location; 517-333-9990; georgiosgourmetpizza.com.
Other popular Lansing pizzerias include Marcos Pizza, (4320 S. Cedar Street, Lansing, MI 48910, 517-394-4444; marcospizza.com); Geno's Pizza, (208 S Washington Sq Lansing, MI 48933; 517-580-7124; and for stuffed pizza, Pizza House (4790 South Hagadorn Road, East Lansing, MI 48823; 517-336-0033; pizzahouse.com).
Where to Eat Pizza in the Upper Peninsula
The Ambassador in Houghton (in 'da U.P.) had the best pizza ever when I was growing up—and the most magical environment! Not sure if the quality has held up, but this is truly a wonderful place I encourage any and all to check out.
126 Shelden Ave Houghton, MI 49931; 906-482-5054; theambassadorhoughton.com.
The folks active on the Facebook page devoted to pizza in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are big fans of Congress Pizza in Ishpeming. According the UP's Fox affiliate, which rated Congress among the top five pizzerias in the area in 2010, it's the sauce that keeps people coming back. According to the owner, some customers order their pies with extra sauce, and some ask for "extra, extra, extra sauce!"
106 North Main Street, Ishpeming, MI 49849; 906-486-4233; Congress Pizza's Facebook page
Serious Eater Helldog told us that Riverside has some great pizza. Brad Soroka of Fox took it a step further, declaring that Riverside Pizza is the best on the Upper Peninsula. Here's why:
Why is Riverside everyone's first stop when they come back to town? It's because the restaurant is as rich in history as their sausage pizza is in flavor. For 64 years, folks have been walking through the doors, not just for the delicious food, but for the tradition. In the summertime, neighbors wait in line for two hours just to sit down and have their favorite slice.
98 East Genesee Street, Iron River, Michigan 49935; 906-265-9944; iron.org.
Other places to check out in the Upper Peninsula include Club 28, 203 Sunday Lake Street, Wakefield, 49968, 906-224-8781; Aubrees, 227 West Washington Street Marquette, MI 49855 and three other locations, 906.225.5511; aubrees.com; and, if you can wrangle an invite, to Mario Batali's vacation home where he cooks as many as 30 pizzas in a night in his outdoor oven.
Where to Eat Pizza in Flint
Wize Guys Pizza
Emma Davis of the blog A Taste of Flint thought the pizza at Wize Guys looked and smelled delicious and was happy to find that the flavor followed suit: "They didn't skimp on the toppings or the cheese," she wrote, "and the entire pizza had a nice buttery glaze. It was a little greasy, but nothing that made me feel sick afterwards." Serious Eater LunaPierCook is also a big fan of Wize Guys, and urges anyone who stops by to order the Red Margherita.
500 South Saginaw Street Flint, MI 48502; 810-410-4406; wizeguyspizzainc.com.
Where's the other good pizza in Flint? We'll have to rely on you. We found a few endorsements of the following spots, but they didn't get into much detail: Michael Angelo's Pizzeria, (3849 Davison Road, Flint, MI, 48506;
810-743-0707); Ruggero's Italian Restaurant & Bar, (2055 S. Linden Road Flint, MI 48532; 810-733-7633; ruggeros.com); Roma Pizzeria, ( G-5227 North Saginaw Street Flint, MI 48505 and one other location in Owosso; 810-787-1061; romaspizza.com); and Luigi's Restaurant and Pizzeria (2132 Davison Road, Flint, MI 48506; 815-234-0023).
Where to Eat Pizza in Southwest Michigan
Bruno's Pizza & Restaurant
There's a nice review of Bruno's on the blog Southwest Michigan Dining. Nick Ponton, the man behind that site (and the aforementioned Mid-Michigan Dining), emailed me a little more detail:
Bruno's Pizza is right on the edge of the Western Michigan University campus. It's been in business for over fifty years and my guess is the restaurant hasn't changed too much. They have a great neon sign out front and the dining room is kind of frozen in time. The pizza was a little surprising to me. I don't usually like hand tossed crust all that well, but Bruno's actually came out fairly crispy. Many people talk about craving Bruno's after they leave WMU. I can see it as a pizza that you could live on for four years like I'm sure many do.
528 W. Michigan Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI 49006; 269-349-3229.
Bilbo's Pizza in a Pan
Nick Ponton of Southwest Michigan Dining is also a big fan of Bilbo's Pizza in a Pan. The official review sums it up:
The pizza was delicious. Right after moving to town, I said Bilbo's pizza was going to be hard to beat and that was reaffirmed tonight. The crust is soft and chewy. The sauce has a little bit of a tang to it and the cheese isn't really greasy.
3307 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49008 and one other location in Portage; 269-382-5544.
Other favorites in Southwest Michigan include Roma's Pizza Restaurant, (9713 Red Arrow Hwy, Bridgman, MI 49106; 269-465-6451); Silver Beach Pizza, (410 Vine Street St. Joseph, MI 49085; 269-983-4743; silverbeachpizza.com); Pete's Patio, (2433 N 5th St Niles, MI 49120; 269-683-4565) and DiMaggio's (6410 North M-63 Coloma, MI 49038; 269-849-1521; DiMaggios-Pizza.com).
Rounding up the Rest of Michigan
Serious Eater LunaPierCook may well be SE's resident Michigan pizza expert, boasting of a life of experience eating pizza across the state. The best in show, LunaPierCook claims, is at Basil Boys in Tecumseh:
For quality of crust, flavor of sauce, and downright "Dang, I gotta have another piece", I look to Basil Boys in Tecumseh...I haven't found better flavor or texture anywhere else.
125 West Chicago Blvd., Tecumseh, MI 49286; 517-423-1875; basilboys.com.
Grand Rapids Pizza & Delivery
Nick Ponton of Southwest Michigan Dining wrote about his first visit to Grand Rapids Pizza & Delivery, which was an unqualified success. Nick Ponton is an even bigger fan now and he explained why via email:
One of my favorite pizzas from anywhere. GRPD has a great thin crust pizza and when I ask them to make it well done, they do it well done Chicago style. The crust is very light and almost always crispy. They pile on the toppings and really get a nice dark, golden brown color on the cheese. Exactly what I look for in a pizza.
340 State Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503; 616-742-4773; grandrapidspizza.net.
My time in Grand Rapids was spent drinking craft brews and noshing on the [pies] at Sazerac Lounge in the northside Creston neighborhood of GR. These pizzas have a cult following for a reason. Someone in that kitchen knows what they are doing. A must try if you find yourself in G-Rap.
1418 Plainfield Avenue Northeast Grand Rapids, MI 49505; 616-451-0010; thesazeraclounge.com.
For more on the best pizza in Grand Rapids, check out this post on the blog, Eat Local, West Michigan that went up in response to a question I sent to the author of the blog. The question got nearly as many different pizzerias as responses, but the two places that got the most votes were Peppino's Pizza, a nine-location chain, and Vitale's.
At last, there's pizza in Michigan that can thrill the senses and the appetite. Excellent homemade, hand-tossed crust with excellent texture, delicious home made sauce, high quality toppings and all baked to perfection! The first time I ate this pizza, I experienced tears of joy and waves of ecstasy!
3465 Blue Star Highway, Saugatuck, Michigan 49408; 269-857-4400; pizzamambosaugatuck.com.
Jolly Pumpkin may be better known for its excellent beer, but the company has restaurants at two of its three Michigan breweries. The menus at the two restaurants aren't identical but they both have pizza. Amy from the blog Runs With Spatula reports on the Traverse City location and calls her first pizza delicious and went on to say this about her second:
We also chose the Carnivore's Pizza and had goat cheese added to half of the pizza on the recommendation of our bartender. This artisan pizza is topped with sliced steak, pepperoni and bacon. Oh. My. God. This was an equally incredible pizza pie.
13512 Peninsula Drive, Traverse City, MI 49686 and another location in Ann Arbor; 231-223-4333; jollypumpkin.com.
Michigan natives and brothers Tom and James Monaghan bought an Ann Arbor pizzeria called DomiNick's in 1960. Eight months later, James traded his half of the business to his older brother Tom for a used car. Tom renamed the pizzeria Domino's a few years later and set about building an empire.
In 1967, Domino's had its first franchise, which was in Ypsilanti. By 1978, there were 200 Domino's locations, which was an impressive growth rate but paled in comparison to what was to come. By 1983, there were 1,000 branches of Domino's, a number that quintupled in just six years. In 1998, Monaghan decided to call it a career and he sold the company he'd purchased for $500 for about $1 billion.
Even as Domino's grew as a company it was often a punchline in jokes about bad pizza. In a 2009 survey of consumer taste preferences among national chains, the research firm Brand Keys found Domino's and Chuck E. Cheese's to be the worst of all national chains. As anyone with a television knows, Domino's used that survey to jumpstart a complete overhaul of its food. And that gets to the much more important question of how it tastes.
Well, Adam Kuban has actually done a decent amount of Domino's research for Slice. When the new recipe was announced, he went out and tried a couple of pies and somewhat impressed with the new sauce:
But somehow, the "bolder" part and the "medley of herbs" and "red pepper kick" seem to balance out any additional sweetness. If anything, the sauce seems less sweet than before—maybe it's just more balanced now. The "red pepper kick" is pleasant and probably just where it needs to be to appeal to a mainstream audience. It's not too spicy but still provides a gentle heat that lingers a bit after you've finished a slice. Good job on the sauce, Domino's.
About a year later, when Domino's launched some new specialty pies, Kuban and the Serious Eats team checked out the Wisconsin 6-cheese pie:
The new cheese is noticeably tangy, perhaps as a result of the cheddar and feta in the blend. It's a little overly salty, but the pronounced flavor works well to mask the too-sweet, overspiced sauce and the bland crust. Nothing can save the soggy crust texture of a Domino's delivery pie, but we all concurred that the cheese was pretty tasty...And while none of our staff would pick it as their favorite pie in the city, the entire pizza was eaten, and quick.
For some more Domino's intel on Slice, check out Adam's tour of the Domino's dough factory.
Little Caesars Pizza
Like Domino's, Little Caesars started out as a family business, though in this case it was the husband and wife team of Michael and Marian Illitch. The first location, still active today, opened its doors in 1959 in the Detroit suburb of Garden City. Because Little Caesar's is a privately-held company and the Illitches don't release a lot of information, there's not nearly as much known about Little Caesars as there is about the other big national chains.
Today, the company is the fourth-biggest chain in the country, and that's even after a disastrous run from 1998-2002 when the company first shut down about 1,000 stores and then lost another 1,600 or so when K-Mart filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and shut down a ton of stores, including the Little Caesars outposts inside. Since then, the company has expanded a lot and now claims to be the fastest-growing pizza chain in the world.
Last year, Serious Eats conducted a taste test of pepperoni pizza from the four biggest chains. Domino's and Papa John's fared the best while Pizza Hut and Little Caesar's were panned. The panel said the Little Caesar's pepperoni was underseasoned, the cheese was akin to "greasy rubber" and tasted of chemicals, and that the crust was "doughy and crunchless."
Michigan chains are not limited to these two behemoths. The state is also home to Hungry Howie's Pizza, the 13th biggest chain in the country, and a number of smaller local chains. Among the more popular are Cottage Inn (described above in the Ann Arbor section), Jet's Pizza, and Happy's Pizza.
Add Your Favorites!
Hey Michiganders, this guide is just a first step. Make it richer and better by adding your Michigan pizza recommendations below. What great Michigan pizza should we add to our list?
Previously in the United States of Pizza
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Illinois (Chicago Edition) »
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