By Chef Vincent Tropepe
Detroit style pizza was developed in 1946 at a food service establishment called Buddy’s Rendezvous and was owned by Gus and Anna Guerra. Sources disagree whether the original Sicilian style recipe was based off of Anna’s mother’s recipe for sfincione. Sfincione is the Italian phrase for focaccia with toppings. This type of pizza became popular in Western Sicily in the mid – 19th century and was consumed until the 1860’s. Or if the recipe came from an employee by the name of Connie Piccinato. The recipe created a “focaccia like crust” with pepperoni pressed into the dough to maximize flavor penetration. The restaurant baked it in a blue sheet pan available from a local automotive supplier made in the 1930’s and 40’s by Dover Parkersburg and were used as drip trays or to hold small parts and car scarp metal in automotive factories because baking pans available at the time were not appropriate for the dish. Even until today some pans as old as 75 years old are still being used to make the pizza.
The term “Detroit style” was seldom used or seen. The first sighting of the phrase outside of Detroit was in 2011 when two brothers from Detroit opened a pizza establishment in Austin, Texas and used the phrase to differentiate themselves from other traditional pizzas patrons were more accustomed to.
It wasn’t until 2012, when restaurant cook Shawn Randazzo won the Las Vegas International Pizza Expo world championship with a Detroit style pizza that had it gain national and international traction.
Detroit style pizza is a deep dish rectangular pizza topped with Wisconsin brick cheese and a cooked tomato basil sauce. Typically the dough has a hydration level of 70 percent or higher which creates an open and porous chewy crust with a crisp exterior. Detroit style pizza is usually generous with the cheese as one of its hallmarks is the cheese touches the edge of the pan to caramelize and get crispy which adds more flavor. The pizza is typically cooked around 440-450 degrees F between 13 to 15 minutes.
Lions and Tigers and Squares was conceived in 2018 by Artichoke Basille’s Pizza co-founders and pizza authorities Francis Garcia and Sal Basille. They were inspired to open a Detroit style pizza shop after visiting Buddy’s Pizzeria that was the supposed birthplace for the pie. While visiting Francis and Sal were very impressed and wanted to bring back a slice of the Motor City to the Big Apple. The name is an ode to the Detroit Lions, the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit style square.
Having never eaten Detroit style pizza before I had a few mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I am a life long New Yorker and a full blooded Italian I even asked myself “If my grandmothers were alive how would I even explain this to them?” but knowing my grandmothers I have a feeling that any positive expression of the Italian culture even if it is not traditional as they know it would be something they would smile about.
So if I had to explain this to someone who never had or heard of this before I would say that Detroit style pizza is a new breed of pizza. It has the familiarities of pizza as we know and love.
One of the universal elements of food that makes is a success or not is balance. Not matter if it’s a sandwich from a deli, steak frite from a French bistro or pizza. Lions and Tigers and Squares has without a doubt presented the balance of a new breed of pizza to New York City. It’s all proportionately situated and every ingredient is tasted and stands on its own merit. Generously topped, filling, creative and memorable Lions and Tigers and Squares brings two places and two versions of an Italian food staple together in an expertly crafted way.
Locations: 268 West 23rd Street New York, NY 10011
160 2nd Avenue New York, NY 10002