As someone who grew up in and around the Detroit metro area, I have a lot of feelings about Detroit-style pizza.
Initially, I was confused by what many classify as "Detroit-style": a square, crispy, thick-bottom crust pizza with wide stripes of sauce. Eventually I realized people were talking about something I remember fondly as "birthday pizza"—the pie found at every borderline-feral grade-school party of my youth. The measure of Detroit pizza seems to fluctuate between the Buddy's restaurant version (containing pillowy centers of soft dough to juxtapose the crunch of the crust) and the Jet's chain recipe (a more equally distributed and sturdy crunch situation throughout) with that bottom layer of fried crust being the main unifier. This summer, Portland gained two new Detroit Pizza joints. Let's see how they did.
A recent addition to the Northeast Portland Zipper building, Boxcar Pizza is an 100 percent vegan pizza parlor, specializing in Detroit-style square pies. Gluten-free crust is a major focus of Boxcar—as this August Eater PDX piece reveals. Chef Odie O’Connor noted that at his wood-fired vegan cart on SE Hawthorne, Baby Blue Pizza, he could only offer gluten-free crust once a week. At Boxcar, he's able to have gluten-free crust all day, every day.
Boxcar Pizza easily falls into the category of vegan food that you crave, even if you aren't vegan. The luscious imposter mozzarella and ricotta on Boxcar's Bianca pie may as well be real cheese for all its melted, gooey goodness. While walking home from Boxcar on a misty winter evening, I achieved a perfect hygge moment after chomping into a garlic piece buried inside seasonings of basil, sea salt, and red pepper flakes, all while grease ran into the palm of my hand.
The crust at Boxcar (I got the regular, not the gluten-free) is a pillowy delight, but perhaps not crunchy enough to rival the true Detroit pizza crust. To be honest, that feels like the best of both worlds. Boxcar started as Detroit-style pizza, but landed on a cloud of puffy crust that is perfectly wonderful in its own right.
Boxcar Pizza, 2701 NE Sandy, (503) 954-2836, boxcarpizzapdx.com
Pop Pizza has a terrific handle on the Detroit-style crust, falling in line with the aforementioned perfect crunch, square variation of Detroit pizza. The fry on the bottom of their pie essentially concludes arguments that Detroit pizza could and should be its own thing.
Since Pop was formed by the baking wizards of Nuvrei, they get that crust right every time, and the toppings show a similar influence from the world of baked goods. The Ezzo pepperoni on their classic pepperoni pie curls up into crispy, delicious little bowls of salt. And I even recently tipped my hat to their Caesar salad for its long, artful gratings of parmesan, in the Mercury's Holiday Food and Drink Guide.
As an antidote to the holiday struggles, Pop Pizza has a number of meal combos currently on offer, created specially for family-sized feasts. The arrangements of pizza, salads, and cookie squares (I was skeptical, but it's like a big chocolate chip cookie that remains melty for hours) could feed your whole horde or just provide you with a steady diet of crunchy pie for quarantine.
Pop Pizza, 610 SE Morrison, (503) 206-8421, poppizza.co
This past Saturday, we heard of the tragic passing of chef Shawn Randazzo, an instrumental player in declaring Detroit pizza its own separate category on the world food stage. Eater Detroit's Brenna Houck penned a thoughtful memorial piece on his career and legacy. Perhaps you'll raise a slice of Detroit pie (crunchy crust means no droops!) in his honor. He was right, I was wrong. Detroit pizza is here to stay!