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The American pizza revolution: Deep dish does a job on the Italian

Yankee fun: pizza from Japes, in Soho  (Japes)
Yankee fun: pizza from Japes, in Soho (Japes)

Even if Franco Manca went out of fashion a while back, London owes the place. Fifteen years ago, it kicked off our mainstream love affair with Neapolitan pizza, helping to inject an Italian classic into the capital’s lifeblood.

Countless Neapolitan-style ventures have since eased in. Pizza Pilgrims recently celebrated its 10th birthday; there’s 081 in Peckham, Bravi Ragazzi in Streatham, 50 Kalò in Trafalgar Square and Chelsea favourite Cinquecento. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to manoeuvre, to welcome and celebrate variations on Italy’s second most precious gift to the world (the first is Sophia Loren).

Today, American pizzas are getting a foothold in the game, from Chicago deep dish — not those inelegant circles of hell from the supermarket freezer — to the famous rectangular “pies” of Detroit, sloppy and outrageous. One place doing them is Four Corners at La Cave (199-206 High Holborn, WC1, lacavelondon.com), a cavernous space where natural wine is paired with the comforting Midwestern classic.

Another is Detroit Pizza (75 Commercial Street, E1, detroitpizzalondon.com). Like many pioneering restaurant ideas of recent years, the Spitalfields joint came from a foreigner hankering for a taste of home. Founder Ryan O’Flynn started loading up square, Parmesan-bolstered crusts with homemade marinara sauce and a “secret” blend of five cheeses in Battersea in 2021.

Pioneer: Detroit pizza founder Ryan O’Flynn (Press handout)
Pioneer: Detroit pizza founder Ryan O’Flynn (Press handout)

It didn’t take long for queues of 50 or more to form outside his door. Now his restaurant is flying and expansion is coming. “Neapolitan has definitely had its decade in London,” he tells the Standard. “I’m not saying I’m anti, I love it, there’s space for all pizza so long as it’s excellent.

“But until recently, you couldn’t get authentic Detroit pizza in London at all, and it was a gap that needed filling. So I started cooking up Detroit pizzas, then sold them out of an archway in Battersea. It went crazy.”

Detroit pizza might not appear sophisticated. In its richness and scale, compared with Neapolitan it is unmercifully indulgent, almost bolshie: a noisy Ford Mustang to a vintage Ferrari. O’Flynn says it was only a case of not having “authentic” varieties here which meant it never really took hold before.

“A proper Detroit pizza should be light and thick. You’re only as good as your dough.

“It’s a style invented in the 1940s at a restaurant called Buddy’s. It’s baked in a pan — a Blue Steel tray used to carry nuts and bolts in the old car factories — which is a cheaper method [than using a specialist wood-fired pizza oven]. I do mine just as they’re done in Detroit, although I try to support local farmers, so I get my flour from the Cotswolds, and make my own marinara sauce. It took me months to get my cheese blend right because I don’t think it would be right to import Wisconsin brick, the type they use over there.

I’ve seen other restaurateurs steal my trash, trying to work out the five-cheese blend I use

“I’m starting to see Detroit pizza really take off. A cheese pie, marinara sauce, a cheese toastie round the edges. Perfect for British diners. I’ve seen other restaurateurs steal my trash, trying to work out the five-cheese blend I use.”

London’s new acceptance of American pies doesn’t stop at Motor City. In Soho, Japes (22-25 Dean Street, W1, japes.uk) is a new deep-pan venture paying homage to Chicago’s own — that unfussy, all-or-nothing type that cures a hangover in a heartbeat.

On the menu are preparations like the “Carbonara”, where pancetta, mozzarella, garlic and parmesan are poured into a bowl-like crust three or so inches tall. It’s generous cooking. Another, the “Sister Chick”, combines chicken tenders with ranch dressing. Yeah, dude, possibly the most American-sounding dish to hit London since Bruce Springsteen played the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 (as it was known then).

London hasn’t been entirely averse to American influence. Voodoo Ray’s (E8, SE15, voodoorays.com) has been selling New York-style pizza around town since 2012; Joe Public (4 The Pavement, SW4, joepublicpizza.com) serves big Californian dishes by the slice, and regularly has queues at its bar by Clapham Common. And a little out of town is Vincenzo’s in Bushey (42 High Street, WD23, vincenzospizzas.com) where the proprietor, donning a full Sopranos-kinda outfit, will tell you to “get the f**k outta here” if the mood strikes.

But American pizzas mostly remain a novelty. Neapolitan is going nowhere, but it seems Londoners are ready for a little razzle-dazzle alongside their old Napoli.