Word of Mouth

Trend Watch: Detroit-Style Pizzas Are Rockin' Denver

When Jet's Pizza opened in Littleton last summer, it introduced something that most Denverites didn't even know existed: Detroit-style pizza. While pizza parlors in Detroit and the surrounding area have been attracting praise ever since Buddy's Rendezvous started dishing up square pies baked in auto-parts pans in 1946, the rest of the country has caught on relatively recently. Jet's, which was founded in Sterling Heights, Michigan in 1978, now has nearly 400 stores around the country.

Even though Jet's has been open for several months, the restaurant is finally getting around to holding a grand ppening celebration this Saturday, March 28, when it will be giving away a free slice to each person who shows up between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. But Jet's isn't the only one playing the Motor City pizza game here in Colorado. The Good Son, the newest restaurant from the Baron family (the original owners of the Udi's brand) that opened this week on Colfax, serves a slight twist on the style. While the medium-thick crust and caramelized-cheese edges are hallmarks of the style, the Good Son bakes its pies in a high-temperature wood-burning oven instead of a gas or electric deck. The result is an airy crust with an almost fried texture (thanks to a generous amount of oil in the pan) and crunchy corners — there's no lip of dough to prevent the toppings from coming in contact with the sides of the hot metal pan. Etai Baron says that although he tasted several varieties of Detroit-style pizza, one of his favorites was from Via 313 in Austin, Texas.

And Michigan native Jeff Smokevitch of Telluride's Brown Dog Pizza is getting set to open Blue Pan Pizza this spring in West Highland. Brown Dog has been serving Detroit-style pies in the mountain town for a number of years, and now Smokevitch and business partner Giles Flanagin are testing their dough and oven in a Denver kitchen. Their goal is to make pizza the way it's been made in Detroit for decades.

It's not just the thickness of the dough or the shape of the pan that makes the difference between Detroit-style and other deep-dish pizzas. "There are a couple of key traits that make our Detroit style pizza at Blue Pan authentic," explains Flanagin. "First, we use the same well-seasoned, blue steel pans that the pizzerias in Detroit use. Some of our pans are actually from the 'old school' Detroit pizzerias. Second, we use a special brick cheese from Wisconsin in our cheese blend.

"The cheese is then placed edge to edge," he continues, "and each pizza it twice baked in a deck oven at a very high temperature." The end result is a caramelized crust that aficionados long for. Flanigan says some customers will order two small pies instead of one big one just to maximize the crust-to-pizza ratio. A Sicilian sauce gets added on top of the cheese instead of underneath, and a natural-casing pepperoni is also used as a topping, which Flanagin says is also unique to the Detroit style. "Being from the Detroit area, it was very important to Jeff and I to adhere to these strict, authentic standards as set forth by the originators of Detroit-style pizza."

That authenticity will be more measurable by Michigan expats than by Colorado natives or folks who have moved here from other states. But deliciousness is universal. At the Good Son, the Baron family's extensive experience with baked goods and pizzas is a good indicator of quality, even if their roots aren't embedded in Great Lakes soil. For Blue Pan Pizza, Smokevitch's recents successes at the International Pizza Expo's International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas, including first place in the American Pan category, bode well for the city's pizza lovers.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation