Food  |  News & Politics

Trend of the Month: Detroit Pizza

Move over, Neapolitan—there’s a brawnier pizza style in town.

Naomi Gallego’s fanciful Detroit pies at Red Light. Photograph by Scott Suchman

One of the perks of living in DC is that our culinary identity isn’t tied to any one food. We don’t have a cheesesteak or brisket to bicker over, so chefs are free to experiment.

And yet. For the last three decades, the area has been so beholden to one style of pizza—Neapolitan—that you’d think the buffalo-mozzarella lobby had succeeded in writing it into law: Open a pizzeria and it must offer a religiously crafted Margherita.

That’s changed, with the advent of Sonny’s (Sicilian), Wiseguy (New York), and All-Purpose (New Jersey). However, 2019 is the year of a burlier style: the Detroit pie.

Never had a Motor City pizza? Neither had attorney turned pizzaiolo Joey Barber until three years ago, when he happened upon a seminar on the subject at the annual Pizza Expo, a conference in Las Vegas. At his Della Barba in Ivy City—currently delivery and pickup only—he offers a faithful rendition. Focaccia-like dough is pressed into steel pans. (Legend has it that the original pans were the blue steel sheets used to clean auto parts.) It’s scattered with cheddar-like Wisconsin brick cheese, which soaks into the paperback-thick crust and crisps the edges. Two ladlefuls of bright-red sauce stripe the top. The result is a pie that’s crunchy on the bottom, soft on top, and utterly delicious.

At Logan Circle’s Red Light (1401 R St., NW), Naomi Gallego, a pastry chef with Michigan roots, puts her own stamp on the style, with whimsies such as a pizza topped with pierogi or another garnished with the makings of a Coney Island hot dog.

But the splashiest debut will happen early next year, when New York’s Emmy Squared, which specializes in Detroit pies, hopes to launch its first DC location.

Gallego says the style’s appeal is its lack of pretentiousness: “It’s simple, workman-style food, thick and hearty. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t crush a whole one by myself.”

This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.