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The Pizza Wars

In all the TV programs and articles about pizza in the
US, there have been two front runners touted as the
indisputable pizza leaders- New York and Chicago.

The classic New York thin and the Chicago deep-dish
(both round) are basically treated as the only main
forms of pizza that matter.

Recently, FoodNetwork named Cleveland the 'pizza
capitol of the nation' by virtue of the number of pizzeria's per
capita. On this basis, the network held a 'National Pizza'
contest there, including only 5 chosen competitors-
A New York team, a Chicago, an LA (a la California
Pizza Kitchen- anything goes type of pie), a Southern
US entry with a cajun/creole bent and of course the local
Cleveland recipe, judged worthy of competition mainly
because it doesn't use the traditional mozzarella cheese.

Ultimately, Cali-style was declared the 'best pizza' in the USA.

Unless you normally eat one of those five styles, these recipes
are interesting and fun when you run across them in bistros,
but to most folks, it's not, well, you know, normal, um, pizza.

Few would argue with the notion that the top 3 nationally franchised
pizza brands known in America would be Dominoe's, Little Caesar's
and Pizza Hut. Many also know Hungry Howie's and Papa John's.
Chains like 'Godfathers' and Nucci's have disappeard or are no longer
national or widespread. Familiar western chains like Round Table
and Numero Uno did not penetrate eastward. Chicago's Pizzeria Uno
is franchised in limited numbers and states.

California Pizza kitchen is becoming a national upscale area presence,
but where are the other four from FN's big showdown when we look at
the big pizza picture?

Three of those top five national pizza chains, and along with them, the
styles of pizza most often consumed, are from- gasp- DETROIT.

Domino's, launched from Ann Arbor, considered a part of the greater
Detroit area, and Little Caesar's, opening throughout the city, were
2 of many pizzeria franchises in the market. These were, as it turns
out, the winners of the growth period of the 60's. These are the only
remaining franchises from that burgeoning era with multiple stores
outside of town.

By going national and becoming as normal for most folks as McDonald's,
they have pretty much accustomed the whole nation to Detroit-style pie.

Detroit pizza is uniquely different from any of the competitors represented by
the FN contest. The round pie in Motown has a slightly thicker crust than the
New york counterpart, and is not made as large around. Traditionally, it's
layered, with sauce on the crust, cheese, items and maybe a few more
dabs of sauce and some sprinkled Parmesan. It is cooked to well done
brown on the bottom. This ensures the crust is cooked properly through
and that the pie won't be a dry ball of greasy cheese. Michigan based
Hungry Howie's introduced the flavored edge crusts, which in turn has
sparked and endless parade of crust gimmicks from national chains. All in
all, though, the top five sell more pizza than anybody and they all serve the
traditional Detroit-style round.

There is, however, a signature pie in the Motor City. Like NY's Napolese thin
and Chitown's deep round, Detroit has it's own pie, too.

Deep Dish Square.

Sometimes called 'Sicilian', deep dish square pizza has been a landmark
menu item in Detroit for quite a long time. Many small deli's and 'party' stores
(beverage stores) added pizza ovens during the 60's, and there were always
italian bakeries that would do pizza just as a matter of routine. Square pans
were larger and more slices of a wieldable size could be cut from them. The
thicker pieces kept better for a longer period of time than the thinner, round
ones, making square the preferred type to offer by the slice. More filling, and
at first, no more expensive, the deep square became a family dinner and
party-tray favorite.

Like any recipe, individual chef's will differ and argue about what kind of
cheese, how strong a sauce, etc, insisting their own unique version is the
ultimate choice. At the broadest level of the 4-corner-pie-game, there are
two schools of thought on the proper basic recipe.

The real argument is; cheese on top or in the middle?

Both sides start with a nice thick crust. Sauce is spread on the crust, and
from there the battle begins.

One side has the cheese next, topped by the items and maybe a little more
sauce, optionally sprinkled with Parmesan .

The other places all the items on the sauced dough and covers it all with
cheese and maybe a few spots of sauce on top.

Among the best known names in Detroit are Buscemi's, a chain of pizza
and beer stores, and Buddies, reputed to be the source of the style-war.
Both put a blanket of cheese atop their square.

The opposition is led by Cloverleaf restaurant (which I've been told traces
back to a former associate of Buddy). They make their squares in the same
sauce-cheese-items-sauce method as most popular round recipes.

Among my favorite Detroit squares were Cosimo's Lakeshore House in
St Clair Shores and 3 D's party store in Roseville. (ask for Tony.) Both
are the layered style.

So, who wins? Tough to say.

Publicity-wise, the cheese-tops win. Buddie's and Buscemi's are household
names in most of Detroit.

Coverage-wise, though, the layered approach is the more prevalent in restaurants,
deli's, bakeries and independant pizzerias. Also, Little Caesar's and Pizza Hut
have both served deep squares nationally in this style.

The undisputed champ here? Detroit pie. Round or square, it's the widest selling
style in the nation, with 3 super franchises stretching coast to coast serving the
pizza the midwest has always known and loved. All five of the top national chains
serve the thicker, smaller Detroit style round and two offer the layered square.
Most of them use straight Mozzarrela cheese. (Outside Detroit- always
order well-done. I mean it. trust me.)

So, as to the aforementioned 'pizza battle', where was that #6 entry from the home
of the nation's most widely consumed styles?

Nowhere to be found.

I suspect this had alot to do with the 'dough-throwing' competition and square pie
not being something you can, well, throw. And, of course, exotic items are more
dramatic for TV, so you have to expect the wildest recipes to be demonstrated.

And that popular Motown pizza that everyone now knows so well- where does
that fit in to our big pie picture?

It's the pizza everyone eats while watching the pizza battles.

copyright 2000 Pegwood Arts all rights reserved 

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