The Santa Cruz area is experiencing Detroit pizza nirvana
Suddenly Surf City’s more Motor City. A mountain bike town’s tracking more Motown. Greater Santa Cruz is transforming into Detroit West.
It’s not the most predictable of outcomes, but it’s as real as Detroit pizza is square: Three pizza joints—all (relatively) new and (arguably) the best in the area—are rocking Detroit-style pie.
For the uninitiated, the genre denotes a rectangular pan pizza with a crust that’s simultaneously crisp, chewy and thick, usually loaded with brick cheese that caramelizes against the deep baking tray—which, by legend, was originally a steel pan intended to be used to catch automotive drip or hold small parts.
The new members of that pie tribe in Santa Cruz County, in order from north to south—and youngest to oldest—each enjoy local family owner-operators, and goes like this:
The Pizza Series
TPS debuted this year in the one-time Tony & Alba’s Pizza & Pasta, which was jarring for fans of the former, until they got a run at the new occupant’s goods.
Matt Driscoll has earned a spot on the national World Pizza Championships team for his dough spinning, but what qualifies him most here is his Detroit heritage.
At Pizza Series’ remodeled headquarters next to CineLux—complete with split levels, beer taps and a substantial patio—his pizzas have been selling out nightly.
He also does New York style whole pies and slices, but smart money says go for a Detroit pizza like The Pep & More with “cup n char” pepperoni, spicy Italian sausage, caramelized onions, whipped ricotta and fresh basil.
Inauthentic never tasted so good. Chef Todd Parker proudly touts his product as exactly that, at least in part because his toppings might get you slugged in Hitsville.
He tempts insane alliances like olive, balsamic vinegar, roasted strawberry and micro greens on a fluffy crust—which he’s also made his own with smart tweaks on the classic recipe—that proves airy in the middle and fried-cheese-crunchy on the perimeter.
Another recent WTF-that’s-insane-and-amazing taste: ’nduja North African spreadable sausage, pineapple and anchovy.
He’s got a knack for touching all the flavor bases, from sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Everyone I’ve taken here can’t believe their taste buds.
Plus he has an unfair advantage because it’s housed in Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Portal on Water Street in Midtown Santa Cruz, which means a sublime pizza comes with nationally ranked local craft beer.
The Slice Project
This pizza drips flavor like the former downtown Watsonville Fox Theater drips style.
On the walls appear stylized skateboard decks and original art, behind the counter appears a robust rundown of area craft beers and on their Instagram feed appears seductive pizza porn.
Like The Pizza Series, they do quality New York pizza too—note the popular White Bugatti with white sauce, mozzarella and lemon zest—but trust Watsonville natives and brothers Brando and Kristian Sencion to overachieve with their square affairs.
Go for the “313,” the flagship thickie with tiny cupping pepperoni. And see if you can guess what city that area code corresponds to.