For longer than I care to remember Little Caesars (whose headquarters are located in Detroit) was the default cheap pizza of choice among certain unseasoned members of my household. Whenever their chums arrived with little to no notice, this inexpensive affront to Sicilian pizza was a reliable source of feed that could keep the monsters appeased. Then, a little less than two years ago, an outpost of Jet’s Pizza—the other Detroit-based pizza chain—opened in the neighborhood and accord was reached. I love the buttery, cheesy, garlicky, caramelized crunch of an eight-corner turbo crust, and though it’s far superior, it is suggestive enough of Little Caesars that there’s peace in the house.
So I was thrilled, to an extent, by the special Detroit-style pizza at Paulie Gee’s, the Chicago outpost of the Brooklyn pizzeria that normally traffics in unusually topped Neapolitan-style pies. The “Logan Square,” as it’s called, is a major departure from these pizzas, a rectangular six-square pie with a relatively buoyant interior but a densely cheesy, chewy caramelized crust.
Owner Derrick Tung says he modeled it on the original Motor City version served at the 70-year-old Buddy’s, a pie he was inspired to duplicate in his home oven after a visit to Detroit years ago. The space Tung leased for Paulie Gee’s came with a convection oven, so he and his crew began playing with it—”with disastrous results at first,” he says—but eventually fine-tuned it to its current form.
They use a multiflour formulation for the dough, says Tung, and allow it proof in a cold ferment stage until ready to use. They set the dough in a Detroit-style pan, add cheese (white cheddar right now), and then allow it to rise at room temperature for a while—typically around four hours—before an initial bake. After that, the pies are prepared to order.
Then it gets weird. Usually, but not always, the sauce goes over the cheese on Detroit-style pizzas, as is the case at Buddy’s. (Jet’s doesn’t do this.) That’s not as strange as what they do at Paulie’s: apply a bright, acidic, chunky, and cold tomato sauce on top of the hot pizza. Tung says that when they were testing dozens of pies they got lazy and would lay down cold sauce out of expediency, and eventually the crew learned to like the contrast in temperatures. Further, he says a customer recently told him cold sauce allows for immediate scarfing without burning the roof of one’s mouth. As for me, I’m not so sure. A tablemate said that the cold sauce on the hot pizza really makes the flavor “pop,” but having eaten it without warning I thought it was disturbing. Cold pizza is one thing, but these wildly different surface temperatures seem like a violation of natural law.
Still, Paulie Gee’s Logan Square is what Jet’s Pizza tastes like in Elysium. Unfortunately, while Jet’s is about to open its sixth store in the city, Logan Squares aren’t nearly as prevalent, since, for now, PG’s only makes 30 per night, Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays.
Paulie Gee’s Logan Square, 2451 N. Milwaukee (no phone)
Tung, who paid his dues as the proprietor of the Za Pi mobile pizza oven, is a rare breed of pizza obsessive. So is Robert Garvey, a Gold Coaster who spent two decades as an amateur developing a very different kind of pizza before going pro last spring, when he opened Robert’s Pizza Company in Streeterville, in the tight space once occupied by Flour & Stone. Garvey’s chief selling point seems to be that his crusts are foldable—they crack but don’t break. That certainly holds up, and though you can reasonably classify them as thin crust (relative to Sicilian style), they’re significantly breadier than the Neapolitan model that’s dominated the pizza conversation during the last ten years—they rise a good quarter inch above its sharply delineated bottom, but still a lot lower than its blistery, wide-open crumbed heel.
Yet on the pie I ordered I was put off by an insipid, bland sauce obliterated by fennel sausage coins and sweet caramelized onions. RPC doesn’t have the wide range of wacky custom pizzas that Paulie Gee’s does, but there are some oddballs (huevos rancheros, brussels sprout, and bacon).
Still, good bread is the entire point of pizza, and though I’ve spent a good deal of energy kvetching about the sauces at these two new pizza joints, I’m happy to report they’re both nailing it in that respect.
Robert’s Pizza Company, 355 E. Ohio, 312-222-0905