We won't proselytize once again just how much better Detroit deep-dish pizza is than Chicago's Sahara-dry brick of crust hollowed out just enough to pour in a tepid pool of marinara sauce. It totally is, but that's not why we're here.
Detroit deep-dish pizza is as much a reflection of Detroit as it is a revelation in pizza. And sure, most outsiders don't understand it, but Detroiters don't need the validation of outsiders to know what a good thing they've got going on right here. It may be stubborn in its resistance to the typical pizza form, playing fast and loose with the concept of "toppings" and the "order" in which they go on, but its uncompromising individualism is part of what makes it so damn enjoyable. Detroit is its deep-dish pizza, and the deep-dish pizza is Detroit.
And so we're here to pay homage to that most superior of deep-dish pizzas, the deep-dish pizza to which all other so-called "deep dish" pizzas aspire to: Detroit deep dish.
First, it starts with a little bit of automotive history. Detroit might be its deep-dish pizza, but it is even more so the Motor City, and many local innovations over the past century are directly born from its automotive roots. Like our neighborhood-skewering freeways and vast swathes of parking lots. (No one said all innovation was inherently good.)
And so it is that, in 1946, Gus Guerra was looking to add new menu items to his struggling neighborhood bar, Buddy's Rendezvous at 6 Mile and Conant, and acquired a few unused blue steel (not the Zoolander pose, the grade of steel) industrial utility trays from a friend who worked at a factory.
He thought the lipped trays would make a good Sicilian-style pizza, despite their rectangular shape. He happened to be right: all of the characteristics that make Detroit deep-dish pizza distinctively itself are the result of the heavy trays, similar to cast iron skillets, used to bake them. The crunchy exterior crust soaked through with oil and bubbled over with caramelized cheese, the soft and airy interior crust: it's all thanks to these repurposed trays.
Legend gets a little shaky here, but the preferred version of local lore is that Guerra's wife Anna got the dough recipe for their signature deep-dish pizza from her Sicilian mother. The alternative story is that an old Sicilian dude named Dominic taught Guerra the "Sicilian way." Blame the omertà code of honor for the silence and subsequent speculation. Either way, Detroit deep dish's roots are in Sicily, with the unique dough, sfincione, being more akin to a focaccia than what's typically identified with pizza, which seems to be a defining characteristic about Detroit's hot take on the subject. It defies what's considered traditional.
From the Sicilian dough and the rectangular trays, the toppings go directly on top of the dough; the pizza is then piled over with high-fat, semi-soft Wisconsin brick cheese all the way to the edges of the pan, melting over the sides of the crust and caramelizing, bubbling up nice and brown on top and melting in the middle. It gets another layer of toppings after that, and, lastly, the final touch: streaks of thick red sauce over top. The result is a dense deep dish that still manages to be light and airy, packed with flavor and plenty of the coveted corner pieces to go around.