Let’s get one thing out of the way: Yes, the state of Michigan is responsible for producing both Domino’s and Little Caesars pizza. But even though the products of these two chains are readily available all over both the lower and upper peninsulas—indeed, one can purchase a “Pizza! Pizza!” within the sacred grounds of Comerica Park itself, home of the Detroit Tigers—there is evidence that Michiganders can get pizza right, too. Very right.
On the west side of the state, there are two pizzerias that render the notions of “meat lover’s” and “Brooklyn-style” little more than bad memories. One, called Fricano’s, calls itself Michigan’s first pizzeria and is based in Grand Haven, an affluent beach hamlet with trolley tours. The other, Mr. Scrib’s, has its headquarters in Muskegon, another beach town noted more for its paper mill than its pizzaiolos. Both Mr. Scrib’s and Fricano’s produce crusts no thicker than Saltines, covered with a minimum of sauce and a generous scattering of toppings and sharp cheese—plain Margherita pies are not necessarily popular here. At both places, the ordering of a “deluxe,” or, in the case of Fricano’s, an “EBA” (Everything But Anchovies), is essential.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I grabbed a few pies from both Fricano’s and Mr. Scrib’s and brought them home to a panel of taste-testers: my family, and my friend, Scott, all of whom had somehow never tried these pizzas before. I picked up three EBA’s (sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, and mushrooms) from Fricano’s, which makes only 12-inch pies that are cut with scissors, and two larges with the same ingredients from Mr. Scrib’s, which cuts its circular pies in square grids.
The interiors of these places were nothing much to look at—Mr. Scrib’s offered little more than a group of T-shirted pizza bakers behind a blue counter, and while the Muskegon branch of Fricano’s was an actual restaurant, it was wedged into an office building in a vacant industrial district that was almost completely without streetlights. Interestingly, however, at Mr. Scrib’s there was a drive-up pizza window (left), an item you certainly wouldn’t find at Totonno’s—or even Domino’s.
After whisking the pizzas home and taking a few photos, I unveiled them to my tasting panel. (Slight lie, there; Scott and I ate an entire Fricano’s pie in the car on the way back, a process that took about six minutes. My jeans have the grease stains to prove it.) While the Mr. Scrib’s 16-incher was larger (and had more pieces, as a result of the restaurant’s slicing technique), Fricano’s sprinkles something its owners call “bird seed” on top of each pie, a mix of unidentified seasonings that gives each one a distinctively tangy, almost spicy flavor. They also won’t put onions on a pizza; I’m not sure why.
The Mr. Scrib’s pizzas, in my friend Scott’s opinion, were “more robust, but not overpowering,” he said. “I could get all the notes. The flavors were more distinct.” The Fricano’s pies, he said, were too “delicate.” I had to disagree—the Fricano’s pies were smaller, perhaps, but they had the flavor of two Mr. Scrib’s larges put together, perhaps thanks to the “bird seed,” but the sausage seemed a higher quality and the green peppers were fresher. The crust of the Fricano’s pie was just a little thinner, a little more crackery, making it much easier to eat slices in numbers approaching double digits. My mom concurred: “Scrib’s was blah,” she said. “Fricano’s paid more attention to tasty ingredients and not to bland crust.” She added one caveat: “Remember, I am not a crust person.”
Still, the event of dining on a pie from either restaurant could never be anything but pleasurable; the crust, at its crispest, makes each slice an invitation to another. With each joint still dishing out pies in the signature paper wrapping they have used since the beginning, it’s the pizza my father threw into the seat of his Volkswagen Beetle and ate with wild abandon on the Lake Michigan shore in the '60s; it’s the pizza I still go home for now.
Address: Three Muskegon locations; reviewed at 3044 Henry Street, Muskegon MI 49441 [map]
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday 5 p.m. to midnight; Thursday 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Cost: $17.95 for large deluxe pie
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