School lunch sausage pizza Credit: John Carruthers

There’s been a startling discovery in the field of pizza research: lunch ladies invented the prototype for the Detroit-style pizza.

Most people give credit for this monumental achievement to Gus Guerra of Buddy’s Rendezvous Pizzeria on Six Mile and Conant Street in the Motor City, but thanks to recently unearthed historical documents, we now know the original square-shaped pies were born in elementary school cafeterias on what we all fondly remember as Pizza Friday.

This secret history is all there in black-and-white in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Quantity Recipes for School Food Service from 1988, an obscure institutional cookbook Crust Fund Pizza boss John Carruthers found in a discarded pizza box in the alley behind his house.

Whichever whistleblower left it there was probably motivated by Carruthers’s recent runner-up performance on the Food Network’s Chopped. His loss is now our gain, as he will summon all the forces of nostalgia to execute classic School Pizza Night at the next Monday Night Foodball, the Reader’s weekly chef pop-up series at Ludlow Liquors.

Still drunk with power from his October 2021 Foodball, Carruthers has rejoined forces with World’s Greatest Food Writer Dennis Lee to develop the recipe to precisely replicate your happiest lunchroom memories.

“It’s floppy and bready, yet substantial,” says Carruthers. “I mean, it’s the shape, the smell. The smell is—the first time I opened my oven with a pan of this [pizza] in there, I’m like, ‘This is the recipe. We are done.’ It smells like compulsory Dickens and remedial algebra and your first crush, all in one.”

Someone Superglued your locker shut but at least its Pizza Day Credit: John Carruthers

Carruthers and Lee will offer three traditional options by the slice—cheese, pepperoni, or sausage—and two rule breakers: a veggie special called the Magnet; and the Montessorri, a smoked brisket pizza, with the topping contributed by Foodball veteran Charles Wong of Umamicue.  

“I’m as guilty as anyone of wanting to do fanciful re-creations and cheffing up dishes,” says Carruthers. “But the really exciting thing here was to dive deep into an actual documented industrial recipe and try to learn it in and out and get it out there as faithfully as possible in a way that resonates with people. I don’t want someone to eat it and be like, ‘Oh, man, you can get that at Oriole.’ I want someone to eat it and go, ‘That’s school pizza.’”

Profits will benefit west-side gang violence intervention organization Build Chicago.

Carruthers and Lee will be will be taking walk-in orders for individual slices starting at 5 PM, Monday, May 22 at 2959 N. California, but beginning Thursday they’ll be accepting preorders for whole eight-slice pies. Watch for that on Instagram or sign up for Carruthers’s mailing list.

Rumor has it barman Joel Gitskin is working on a cocktail special you’d be proud to drink out of a juice box. I know that’s a lot of excitement to contain. Try to distract yourself with the ongoing Foodball schedule.