The Boston area has long enjoyed a plethora of pizza styles, from the bar pizzas of the South Shore to the beach pizzas of the North Shore; wood-fired Neapolitan to big, floppy New York slices; thick, comforting Sicilian pizza to the New England Greek pizza found at every House of Pizza around. There’s even a bit of New Haven-style pizza, with a growing presence of Pepe’s locations coming in from Connecticut (and the eventual opening of Apizza in Boston’s West End).
Detroit-style pizza, though, remains a bit of a mystery to many Bostonians, with its somewhat upside-down construction eliciting raised eyebrows. The style traces its roots to the Detroit icon Buddy’s, which opened as a bar in the 1930s and became a full-fledged restaurant in the 1940s, at which point owner Gus Guerra reportedly worked a Sicilian-style pizza into something new. The basic requirements: It’s called “square,” even though it’s a rectangle, and it’s traditionally cooked in blue steel pans used in the automotive industry. The dough is akin to a spongy Sicilian pie; don’t expect a New York-style chew. Toppings go on the crust first, followed by cheese and a distinctive drizzle of red sauce. The cheese is ideally Wisconsin brick, mild and medium-soft. Depending on the sauciness of the slice, a knife and fork may be necessary.
While Boston has been getting to know Detroit pizza only over the past few years, the style is not completely unfamiliar. Its Sicilian roots are well known to anyone who has spent time eating thick, rectangular slices around Boston’s North End or at old-school pizzerias like Leone’s in Somerville or Pinocchio’s in Harvard Square. The bubbly, cheesy crust feels akin to that of South Shore bar pizzas. The toppings-on-the-bottom construction is probably the least familiar aspect, but any locals with ties to upstate New York may recognize shades of the “upside down” pizzas of Utica, New York, made at landmarks like O’Scugnizzo, open for over a century.
Detroit-style pizza started making headway into Massachusetts in 2017. The now-closed Fenway restaurant Tapestry, which served Neapolitan-style pizza, introduced the Detroit square as a special, and the fall 2017 opening of Volo Craft Pizza in Swampscott helped the style reach a larger local audience. Some locations of the Otto pizzeria chain in Maine and Massachusetts tested Detroit-style pizza as well; it was cut from the menu at all but one location during the pandemic. (More on that below.)
Somerville’s Avenue Kitchen & Bar followed in 2019. Emmy Squared, a growing New York-based chain, had suggested in 2019 that a Boston expansion might be in the works, but that idea has since been axed in order to focus on locations opening in the Southeast, a rep tells Eater.
But it was during the blurry months of 2020 when the Detroit-style pizza trend really caught on, as more people craved comfort from their at-home meals. Kris Gullapalli, owner of Square Mfg. Co., which opened in Natick at the end of 2020, partially credits the rising interest in square pizza to people being “stuck at home and looking for carryout options that felt new or exciting.”
“Detroit-style pizza hits that need perfectly,” she says, “as it’s a new take on a familiar flavor profile. We like to say it’s the hottest pizza trend since 1946,” which was when Detroit-style pizza was first created.
It’s about takeout and delivery logistics, too — an important topic during the pandemic. This is a thicker style of pizza, notes Gullapalli, well suited for traveling and reheating. “Our customers actually look forward to leftovers,” she says.
Dario Paone, co-owner of Volo Craft Pizza in Swampscott, adds that the pandemic pushed restaurant operators to get more tech-savvy: “Restaurants are starting to discover [Detroit pizza] now because restaurateurs are becoming more internet-savvy due to the pandemic and learning how to use the tools available to them for self-promotion and discovery purposes,” he says. He notes that people “eat with their eyes first” through platforms like Instagram. “We’re showing them something new, yet old. Everyone has had a pizza, but have you had a Detroit-style pizza? Consumers are looking toward us for new experiences that they can have right now, this second, in this new socially distant world we live in.”
Some Boston-area purveyors of Detroit-style pizzeria were driven by their own Detroit roots; others saw a growing trend on social media and jumped on board. Several local spots credit the late Shawn Randazzo — founder of the Detroit Style Pizza Company and winner of the World Champion Pizza Maker title at the International Pizza Expo — with providing the inspiration and, in some cases, training. Some simply fell in love with the style, taught themselves through research and trial and error, and wanted to share it with Boston audiences.
Here’s an inside look at eight Boston-area restaurants that serve Detroit-style pizza, listed in approximate order of their arrival on the scene.
Volo Craft Pizza
152 Humphrey St., Swampscott
Dario Paone and his family opened Volo in Swampscott in 2017, drawing on decades of experience in the pizza business. The casual pizzeria, which sells round pies that are closer to New York style in addition to the Detroit-style ones, also offers sandwiches, pastas, and salads.
The family first got started back in 1986 when Paone’s parents, Anthony and Josephine, purchased a pizzeria in Marblehead called Romano’s. The focus was on New York-style pizza, which was the predominant style of the area at the time.
“My twin brother, Claudio, and I would spend countless hours at the shop learning the business from my father throughout our teen years and early 20s,” Paone says. Their parents pushed the Paone brothers toward careers outside of the industry, though, and Dario ended up in New York, most recently working at Zillow Group as a front-end engineer.
While in New York, Dario immersed himself in the pizza scene. “There is no better place to get pizza,” he says. “Any type of pizza you wanted you could have, and believe me, I had a lot. It got to the point where my wife banned me from eating pizza. The ban didn’t last long. She’s a pizza snob herself.” In 2016, Dario was first exposed to Detroit-style pizza thanks to Emmy Squared.
“To say that I immediately fell in love is an understatement,” he says. “You have a square-pan pizza that is light and soft on the inside, sauce on top of the cheese, and the cheese spread throughout the entire pie and caramelized to perfection on the edges, giving it that unbelievable signature crunch … Where have you been my whole life, Detroit-style pizza?”
He called his brother, whose career had kept him in Boston, and told him about his “out-of-body experience” trying Detroit-style pizza. Claudio visited and the brothers went to Emmy Squared together. Then they agreed on one thing: They needed to bring Detroit-style pizza to Massachusetts. They enlisted their parents — who’d sold Romano’s in 2015 but were itching to get back into the game — to join them.
They researched, learning about the classic destinations like Buddy’s and Cloverleaf in Detroit and the newer additions such as Via 313 in Austin and Blue Pan Pizza in Denver, and eventually received training from Shawn Randazzo in Michigan. Their father, who is “deathly afraid of flying,” had to make the trip by car. This inspired the name of the family’s restaurant as “volo” means “flight” in Italian.
27 Main St., Andover
Otto, a pizzeria chain with locations throughout Maine and Massachusetts, started testing Detroit-style pizza in 2017 with a few pop-ups. The response was good, so it got added to the menu at a few locations in both states, per marketing director Eric Shepherd.
COVID-era menu streamlining eliminated the Detroit-style pizza, at least for now, at all but the new location in Andover, where it’s available only on Monday nights from 4 p.m. until sellout — and it usually does sell out. Alex Budd owns and operates this location. He and Otto co-founder Anthony Allen got their first taste of the square pizza a few years back while attending the Las Vegas Pizza Expo, where Jeff Smokevitch of Blue Pan Pizza hosted a demonstration.
“We couldn’t stop talking about how great it was and how different [it was from] all of the pizza around New England,” Budd tells Eater. He and Allen saw it start to pop up a bit in the area with openings like Volo, and gain some national recognition thanks to Emmy Squared and Via 313. They decided to work on an Otto version, which has gone through several iterations.
“It’s great to see how much traction Detroit-style pizza has gained in Greater Boston over the last couple of years, and I don’t think that would be possible without the commitment Volo has given to the style.”
Otto makes its version of Detroit-style pizza with a twice-baked, double-proofed dough. It uses a blend of mozzarella, cheddar, and asiago, along with “cup and char” pepperoni, which is different from the pepperoni the restaurants use on their non-Detroit pizzas.
Avenue Kitchen & Bar
158 Boston Ave., Somerville
Avenue chef and owner Kenny Schweizer, an alum of Ward 8, Bodega Canal, and Nahita, opened the restaurant in June 2019 and has certainly seen an increase in takeout business over the course of the pandemic.
For many customers, eating at Avenue is their first experience with the style, but a handful are familiar from dining at their hometown restaurants in Detroit. “People make sure to tell us that they’ve had the real thing from the homeland of Detroit, at Buddy’s, and I am proud to say that we have gotten a thumbs-up from every one of them.”
Schweizer’s interest in the style of pizza was piqued a decade or more ago when he saw a picture in a magazine. “The burnt cheese around the edges had me wanting to do this,” he says. “I have to admit the sauce on top was a little far-fetched for me at the time, but now I’m hooked.”
He grew up near Utica, New York, where he says “pan-style pizza is king,” and worked his way through high school at a friend’s parents’ restaurant, DeFazio’s Pizza & Pasta.“The pan pizza dough recipe we use at Avenue is the same dough recipe I was taught all those years ago,” Schweizer says. “As soon as I saw those pictures of the Detroit-style pizza I knew I wanted to do this, and I knew exactly how from my experience all those years ago ... When we started production at Avenue it really was full circle for me.”
While Avenue’s menu isn’t limited to pizza — it’s a full-service restaurant and bar with plenty of comfort food, from maple chile duck wings to lamb Bolognese with garlic bread — the pizza selection is certainly a highlight, with varieties such as the chef’s choice (red sauce, pepperoni, sausage, broccoli rabe, and ricotta) and beef barbacoa (braised short rib, pico de gallo, cilantro pesto, and beef jus). Diners can swap in vegan cheese if desired.
Longcross Bar & Kitchen
501 Fellsway, Medford
Greg Coughlin, who is behind Olde Magoun’s Saloon in Somerville and Blackmoor Bar & Kitchen in Charlestown, opened Longcross Bar & Kitchen at the start of 2020, featuring comfort food like short rib poutine, bratwurst on a pretzel roll, burgers, steak tips, and what he refers to as Detroit deep dish, which the menu notes has a “focaccia and cheese crust.”
“Our Detroit deep-dish pizzas are selling like crazy,” Coughlin tells Eater. “People love them. When we opened, we wanted to put something delicious on the menu that was also a novelty in the Boston area, not the same pizza you find everywhere else.”
Longcross’s selection of pizzas includes a couple of traditional options — “old-school pepperoni” with “lots of pepperoni,” as well as a margherita — and a couple of others that are a little more over the top, such as a barbecue chicken pizza with ranch sauce, jack cheese, and habanero barbecue drizzle.
Needham House of Pizza
914 Great Plain Ave., Needham
Most Boston-area restaurants with “House of Pizza” in their name serve the aforementioned niche pizza style of New England Greek, and Needham House of Pizza, established in 1963, is no exception. But the casual pizzeria and sub shop added Detroit-style pizza to its offerings just weeks before the pandemic began, owner Artie Tzouros tells Eater.
“I was seeing the trend gaining traction nationwide on social media and YouTube,” he says, and he noted that only a few places in Massachusetts were serving it. “I did lots of research on it and its ingredients, and there was some trial and error with our recipe to get it where I liked it.” He also got approval from a couple of customers who had grown up eating it in Detroit.
“The entire recipe is different from our traditional pizza. The cheese, the sauce, the dough — everything is different. It’s been a great addition to our menu, and it’s always a big seller, especially on Fridays. People like to order online ahead of time to be sure to reserve one for dinner.”
Needham House of Pizza offers its Detroit-style pizza with any of a long list of typical pizzeria toppings (pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, banana peppers, and more).
Night Shift Brewing (Lovejoy Wharf)
1 Lovejoy Wharf, Suite 101, Boston
When Everett-based Night Shift Brewing expanded its operations to Boston proper, opening its West End taproom, brewery, restaurant, and cafe in March 2019, flatbreads were on the menu. In fall 2020, though, the team purchased a new pizza oven — a gas-powered Edge conveyor unit — to switch to Detroit-style pizzas.
This happened in conjunction with a new partnership between Night Shift Brewing and Little Branch Hospitality, the latter of which consists of folks from the Branch Line and Shy Bird teams. Little Branch Hospitality worked with Night Shift to completely revamp the menu, as well as the front-of-house and back-of-house teams at Lovejoy Wharf, with culinary director Nemo Bolin (an alum of the late, great Eastern Standard) leaning into Detroit-style pizza.
No one on the team is from Detroit, but the style of pizza felt “fun and approachable while being different enough from the everyday corner slice to allow for creativity within that style,” Bolin and Little Branch principal Eli Feldman tell Eater.
“It’s a style that has become popular recently, and for us it is about the complexity of a great dough, textures, and flavors. We spent over a year on the dough, the locally milled flour from Bay State Milling, proofing time, cook time. Detroit-style pizza specifically is a great canvas for any number of toppings.”
Night Shift offers several red Detroit-style pizzas and several white (without tomato sauce). The former includes the Shifty, with tomato sauce, a cheese blend, ricotta, salami, jalapeno, and hot honey, while the latter includes the Forager, with fontina and Gruyere, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, and goat cheese.
Square Mfg. Co.
935 Worcester St., Natick
Like the Volo team, Square Mfg. Co. owner Kris Gullapalli had the opportunity to train with Shawn Randazzo before his passing in 2020, and, like many adoptees of the style, she credits him for helping popularize it across the country. A Midwest native, Gullapalli’s first exposure to Detroit pizza was through her husband while attending the University of Michigan.
“At first I’d tease him because I sincerely thought he made up Detroit-style pizza,” she says. “Everyone knows New York-style pizza and Chicago pizza, but I had never heard of Detroit-style before. But as we started moving around the country from Michigan to New York to Philly before finally settling in Boston, I realized that you really couldn’t get that kind of pizza anywhere else but Detroit. And when we finally settled in Boston, I was looking to bring a piece of my Midwest roots to my new home in Boston.”
She opened Square Mfg. Co. at the end of 2020, offering a variety of pizzas, some with red sauce and some without. An example of the former is the “suparoni,” with a cheese blend, cupping pepperoni, pepperoncinis, peppadews, and a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey. A no-red-sauce option is the shrimp ’n’ grits, with a cheese blend, shrimp, garlic, bacon, grape tomatoes, crispy corn, and a hatch chile ranch drizzle.
Gullapalli notes that she’s a fan of all types of pizza and is excited to highlight this particular type in the Boston area. “We’re lucky to have received a great reception from opening and are looking forward to hopefully expanding to more locations throughout the Boston area in the future,” she says.
True North Kitchen & Bar
159 Bridge St., Weymouth
This family-owned Weymouth restaurant, which co-owner Joe Campbell describes as an American tavern, opened in September 2017 and added Detroit-style pizza to the menu at the end of 2020. Campbell moved to Hingham in 1970, but he grew up in Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s, returning to visit family every summer during the 1970s and 1980s; many relatives still live there. “We always went to Buddy’s once a week for their sublime pies,” he tells Eater.
“Like most of the industry, we keep morphing into something we think will catch a wave,” Campbell says. “The South Shore has many good pizza joints, but most are New England bar pizzas because they are cheap and quick. We opted for something different that spoke to my roots.”
Campbell acknowledges that Detroit-style pizza isn’t a hit with everyone. “Who puts the sauce on top?” he says. “But the feedback we have gotten has been phenomenal.”
The restaurant’s menu promises that the pizza is “legit” — not “some Brooklyn knockoff that you buy on Goldbelly.” True North offers a variety of toppings, including pepperoni; sausage and mushroom; and an elaborate combination of bacon lardons, caramelized onions, garlic, creme fraiche, Wisconsin brick cheese, and Gruyere. True North makes its pizzas in the traditional blue steel pan, with cubes of brick cheese spread all the way to the edge for the distinctively crispy, cheesy crust, and with racing stripes of sauce on top.