Michigan Pizza -
Where's the good stuff?

Michigan pizza, for a couple of New Yorkers like us, is almost an oxymoron. We lived in Ann Arbor for two years, loved the town and suffered the pizza as best we could. In the Southeast Michigan area, in two years, we found only one truly excellent pizzeria. It’s a 40-mile drive from where we lived, and worth every mile.

An oasis in the pizza-desert that is Michigan.

But before revealing the name of what could be the finest East Coast style pizzeria in the Midwest…

Let’s talk about the pizza in Ann Arbor:

Ann Arbor is the home of Domino’s, and most pizza here is on the Dominos Pizza level. Note to Michiganders: Yes, we know the original location was in Ypsilanti, but Domino's World Headquarters is in Ann Arbor. You'll find more in our forthcoming section on Pizza Chains and Franchises.

Ann Arborites said, "If you want good Michigan pizza, go to Aubree’s or Cottage Inn," both small local chains. “Oh, it’s awesome!” one local actually said about Cottage Inn. We felt no awe whatsoever. We tried a few other pizza places not even good enough to mention.

There are two places with edible pizza in Ann Arbor and only one of them enters the ‘good’ category. NYPD Pizza (New York Pizza Depot) is okay in a Ray’s-clone sort of way… but the crust is doughy and undercooked and like many of the faux-Ray’s that populate Manhattan, NYPD follows the philosophy that says “put on enough cheese and people will eat it up!”

Silvio's Organic Pizza

The best pizza in Ann Arbor is Silvio’s Organic Pizza. It’s not what either of us would call awesome, but Silvio is a creative pizzaiolo and a great bread baker. He also takes pride in making healthy pizza, using mostly organic ingredients (herbs, tomatoes, flour, etc.). Silvio’s is a small place, hidden away in a building across the street from the University of Michigan campus. They sell pies and pizza by the slice, and every time we’ve been there, there’s been an assortment of interesting pizzas. The last time we were there, we had their Margherita pizza, a truffle pizza (a white pizza made with Brie), a more generic veggie slice, and a pesto slice with pine nuts.

Silvio’s crust is consistently good bread – a little yeasty, but a swell mouthful, and it’s the crust that makes Silvio’s pizza what it is, which is very good. The main drawback: a number of the pies made with sauce are made with a cooked sauce, rather than canned or fresh tomatoes allowed to cook in the baking. Maybe that’s how they do it in Silvio’s home region of Abruzzo, but we like the Neapolitan way. Silvio does make pizzas with tomatoes (canned and/or fresh), but we haven't had a chance to try those. The pizzas without sauce are always interesting and usually very, very tasty.

So if you happen to be in the marvelous city of Ann Arbor and you need a pizza, Silvio’s is your best bet. Bring your love of good bread and your sense of adventure. (Silvio’s Organic Pizza, 715 N. University Ave. Ann Arbor, MI, 734.214.6666)

So where’s the EXCELLENT pizza?

Tomatoes Apizza

Thirty-five miles to the northeast in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills is Tomatoes Apizza, the New Haven-style pizzeria with the only coal-fired brick oven in Michigan. The owner/pizzaiolo, Michael Weinstein, studied at the Culinary Institute of America and at Abate’s Apizza on Wooster Street in New Haven (guess which credential carries more weight with us?).

Pizza from Tomatoes Apizza

We loved their classic pizza, especially with fresh basil and extra garlic (we tried that one on our second visit). Lillian thought the garlic was a little heavy-handed, but we both ate the garlic – we’re passionate people. The crust had just the right hint of char from the monstrous coal-fired oven – “Overdone to perfection,” as Weinstein calls his pizza. A dusting of parmesan cheese before serving gave the pizza a very mild bite. We would have preferred some nice sharp romano, but no real complaints here - especially after two years of eating what Michiganders usually call Michigan pizza!

The pizzas at Tomatoes are oblong, not round. They say it has to do with the heat of the coal-fired oven, but we've had round coal-baked pies in New York, so we're not really sure what gives. And the way the pizza was sliced would have made it difficult to figure out exact halves, if we'd wanted to do that. The shape was entertaining, the slicing was fun, like eating a jigsaw puzzle of pizza.

It looked like a big pie, but the crust was so thin and delicate that the two of us polished it off easily, with much grinning.

Michael Weinstein of Tomatoes Apizza

After we ate, Weinstein gave us a look at the oven, but wouldn’t tell us what kind of tomatoes he uses. I didn’t expect him to.

During each of our visits, we noticed other people in the restaurant enjoying a crab pie, one of the varieties of pizza on Tomatoes' menu. A friend of ours asked about the New Haven classic Clam Pizza - it's no longer on the menu because folks in the area weren't ordering it! Maybe they'll make one for you?

How good is Tomatoes Apizza? As we said, it was a forty mile drive each way both times we visited, and this was when gas was over $4 a gallon. Really good pizza. (Tomatoes Apizza, 29275 14 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, MI 248.855.3555) They have another location a few miles away, but only the pizzeria on 14 Mile has the coal-fired oven.

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