Pizza comes in regional varieties that make opening a restaurant specializing in it a fraught proposition in places like Florida, which has no claim to a variety of its own. Barbecue has the same issue. I can think of only one other food item that has more versions, but so far no one has tried to open a potato salad restaurant.
With pizza, you have New York style, New Haven style (not to be confused with New England style), California and Chicago’s deep-dish, which someone recently described as essentially a casserole. St. Louis, Colorado, Rhode Island and the Ohio Valley all have their variations. Even the place I grew up, the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa on the Mississippi River, has its own distinct style, both in the ingredients that comprise the crust and toppings and in its signature way of cutting the pie in strips instead of wedges.
In Central Florida, the New York style dominates, and many Florida transplants have adopted it in lieu of their hometown styles. But now Detroiters can have a taste of home courtesy of SoDough Square.
The name is clever on multiple levels. The restaurant is in the SoDo district, on Michigan Street, and the pie is indeed a square. Plus, dough is a prominent part of a Detroit style pizza.
SoDough is the newest concept from Robert Bair, a native of Detroit, and it sits next door to his popular Tin & Taco restaurant. (The two restaurants are open to each other, which is nice because after you order your pizza at SoDough you can walk next door to buy a can of beer, which for some reason isn’t available at the pizza counter.)
Although it has been open more than a month, SoDough is still claiming a soft-opening phase. As such, it is limiting the pizzas it sells to the four-square size and to walk-in orders only. I walked in recently and was greeted by someone in the back, where the pizzas were being made. That was the last human contact I had until my pies were handed to me less than 20 minutes later.
I stood there several minutes looking at the menu screens over the counter where the 10 varieties of pizzas are listed and described and wondering why none of them had a price next to it. After a few minutes more of expecting someone to step up to take my order, I noticed a computer screen in the center of the counter and realized I was to place my order there.
(How much nicer it would have been for that person who shouted the warm greeting to add, “Once you’re ready just step up to the screen to place your order.” Or maybe a couple of cartoon-style arrows stating “start here” pointing to it.)
Anyway, once I knew the process I was able to figure it out. The interface was user friendly and the procedure was intuitive. It had all the charm of ordering online except you have to put on pants. (You’ll just have to trust me on that.) You will even process your own credit card and email or text yourself the receipt. And yes, it will ask you if you want to add a tip.
I was ordering for three adults and so I ordered three pies. Two would have been enough and we’d have still had leftovers, an important aspect of a pizza experience.
The person who developed the Detroit style of pizza first used the square pans used on automobile assembly lines to hold nuts, bolts and other parts, which creates all sorts of opportunities to riff on greasiness, “nutty” textures and even a few gasket jokes, but our time is limited here. The pans are blue steel and essential to the quality of the crust.
Detroit pizzas have a thick, breadlike crust that is spongier than, say, a Chicago deep-dish. Brick style shredded cheese is applied to the dough edge to edge and melds into the dough when it bakes. Because the pizza is cooked inside a pan the crusty edges don’t dry out but still have a nice chew.
The pizza called 6 & Conant is an unmeated pie with the house red sauce, cheese and fresh basil. The sauce, which is added on top rather than slathered on the dough, was good but might have been more evenly distributed.
The lack of meat was made up for on the #24 Enforcer, which had bacon, sausage (pinched, which means that it’s ground sausage), pepperoni and basil. The toppings were especially generous and this was my favorite pie.
I also used the build-your-own to order one just with pepperoni, something that might be called a basic on another pizzeria’s menu but was not among the list of prefab pies here.
Just as with his Tin & Tacos, Bair offers a good product for a fair price ($11 to $15). Some will scoff that “this isn’t pizza,” but that’s because they’re unable to shake the style that was imprinted on them when they were young. They can at least be happy that the pizzas here aren’t served with a side of potato salad.