Forget about apple pie. The real American pie that we have all come to love is that oh-so-familiar savory disk loaded with tomato sauce, cheese, and a whole lot of history—aka the glorious pizza.
Pizza has roots in Italy, but has been bred and reborn as an American classic that no one ever tires of. No amount of pizza-laden college parties, moving days, or children’s birthdays ever diminishes the enjoyment of a gooey slice of heaven. Plus, Pizza has nostalgic appeal for many of us, and there’s a cheap thrill that comes from the feeling of saying “no” to cooking, and instead ordering a home-delivered pie. Maybe it’s because in the U.S., we associate a delivered pizza with the luxury of room service to our very own home. After all, nothing says relaxed decadence like a hot, cheesy pizza brought to your door.
Of course not all pizzas are the same. Across the country, pizza styles vary by region. Understanding the regional favorites helps to better order a pie that’s perfect for you. .
New York-Style Pizza
New York-style pizza is what many of us think of when we hit the town for a late-night slice. Thin and generously portioned into large, floppy slices, New York pizza is an American institution. Developed by immigrants from Naples, Italy, in the early twentieth century, it’s become the definitive pizza for many Americans. What defines a New York pizza is the dough. Always hand-tossed to a thinness that allows for easy folding, New York pizza dough has high gluten content that makes it stretchy and chewy once baked. Some pizza chefs have insisted that it is the high mineral content of New York City’s tap water that gives the dough its perfect texture. As a result, some American chefs go so far as to have New York City tap water shipped to them to ensure their customers are getting an authentic representation of New York-style pizza with every bite.
A traditional NYC pizza is 18 inches in diameter, cut into eight pieces, and requires a good fold down the middle to eat properly. New York is also the original home of by-the-slice pizza: the tradition originated with the classic five-cent pizzas of the early 1900s. Patrons who didn’t have a whole nickel to spare would pay what they could and receive a fraction of a pizza pie. The tradition stuck and became a favorite of street carts and late-night partiers alike.
After New York style pizza, Chicago deep dish might be what comes to mind for most Americans when they look for pizza on a menu. Far from the floppy folds of New York style, a good Chicago pie has a crust that can reach three inches tall. If you’re looking for the original though, you may not have to go far: Chicago-style deep dish was invented at Pizzeria Uno—the same chain that still exists today. Deep-dish crust has a bready, thick quality that is often oiled to produce a crispy-fried edge. Between the oil and the addition of semolina, deep-dish crust is often bright yellow. Keeping that crust crispy can be a challenge, so in a true Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, the sauce is always applied last, atop all of the other toppings. If you’re in it for the long haul, try a Chicago invention that’s become a national favorite—the stuffed crust.
St. Louis-Style Pizza
St. Louis style pizza is what most of us know as “thin crust.” Topped with a spicy, oregano-heavy sauce and cut into small squares, what really makes a St. Louis pizza is the cheese. Anything but the classic Italian mozzarella on many pizzas, St. Louis pizza chefs use Provel—a cheesy blend of provolone, Swiss, and white Cheddar cheeses. Provel is not easy to find outside of the Midwest, a fact that helps keep this delicious pizza style unique to the region. A St. Louis-style pizza is always made with an unleavened, yeast-free crust with a crispy, almost cracker-like crunch to it. The small square tavern-cut style of a St. Louis pizza serves a dual purpose—enabling practical nibbling of the crispy crust, and paying homage to inventor Ed Imo’s original profession of tile laying.
Detroit, Michigan is a city known for a dozen different claims to fame: Motown, cars, hockey, and KISS. But pizza? And how? Given our experience, we’d say Detroit-style pizza is poised to take the nation’s taste buds by storm. A recent GQ article ranked New York and Chicago as the United States’ best pizza cities. But number three? Detroit takes it with a unique square-shaped pizza that’s ready to work its way into pizza lover’s hearts.
Detroit-style pizza dates back to the 1940s, when tavern-owner August Gus added Sicilian-style pizza to his menu. While the square shape hearkens back to Sicily’s own pizzas, what is served and perfected today in Detroit’s pizzeria is certainly a 100% American invention. Detroit pizzas often contain some uniquely Midwestern additions, such as ground hamburger beef and a melted butter wash brushed over its always deep, bready crust. The thick, square shape of a Detroit pizza comes from the original source of the cookware used, stuck without pizza pans, Detroiters with a pizza craving, used industrial metal trays for their pies. Industrial equipment used for a perfect pizza? What’s more Detroit than that? If you’re looking to try a good Detroit-style pie, pizza chef Shawn Randazzo, founder of Detroit Style Pizza Company, makes one of the best. He won the 2012 “Super Bowl of Pizza” with his creation. You can order them online here on FoodyDirect.com. And, if you’re okay with trying a more pedestrian version, Little Caesar’s has offered a Detroit style pizza on their menu since April.
These are far from the only pizza options, as many regions (such as Chicago) have added their own twists to other well-known pizza styles. Pizza, like other good traditions, has evolved over time. It’s okay to put avocado and goat cheese on your New York to make it a Californian, or learn that Hawaiian style isn’t actually from Hawaii and can also be enjoyed in Florida.
Honor this great American food tradition by ordering your favorite pizza or exploring one of the many other tasty regional favorites!