Fresh on the heels of the declaration of Portland as America’s best pizza city, I found myself craving cheese, sauce, and crust. But there were several glaring omissions from that Bloomberg article, one of which was: where’s the Detroit-style pizza?! Neapolitan and New York–style pizzas are old news here in Portland, though we still love them dearly (Pizza Jerk, Ken’s Artisan Pizza, Apizza Scholls). To me, the pizzas that really make our town stand out as a pizza town—other than the uniquely Portland styles like Lovely’s Fifty Fifty—are the harder-to-find city styles, the ones that come from New Haven (Gracie’s Apizza, with several stylistic departures; Dimo’s Apizza), Chicago (the tavern-style thin-crust from Jerry’s Pizza constantly sells out), and Detroit (Ranch Pizza, Pop Pizza, and the pizza I had the pleasure of trying this week at Assembly Brewing).
Though Assembly Brewing, in the Foster-Powell area, also offers several topping-laden iterations of Detroit-style pizza, I went with a straightforward classic: pepperoni. But upon opening the pizza box, I couldn’t even see the pepperoni, which was layered under a thick blanket of Wisconsin brick cheese. Instead, the stars of the pizza are apparent: the golden, crispy edges of the crust, the generous smears of tangy-sweet tomato sauce atop the cheese in a pizza role (not roll!) reversal intended to keep that magically airy thick crust from getting soggy. Like the tomato pie at Gracie’s Apizza, Assembly Brewing’s pizza made me rethink how good a simple tomato sauce could be. The pepperoni felt like a subtle flavor enhancer rather than a grease bomb that stole the show, as frequently happens with a pepperoni pie. I threw in a side of Assembly’s ranch, which was solid—but to be honest, this pizza doesn’t need it. I also grabbed spinach artichoke rolls teeming with feta and melty cheese, which make an excellent vehicle for the marinara dipping sauce.
I don’t often chase after the food at breweries, but Assembly Brewing—which is also the first Black-owned brewery in Oregon—is a special case. Just as Lovely’s Fifty Fifty is half pizza, half ice cream, Assembly Brewing’s specialty is just as much beer as it is pizza. Co-owner, brewer, and pizza maker George Johnson hails from Detroit. According to his bio on Assembly Brewing’s site, he fell in love with beer while tasting his first microbrew after a lifetime of watery domestic beer. He began homebrewing as a teenager and went on to study brewing at the American Brewers Guild. Now, at Assembly, he makes classic brews like a golden ale for summer afternoons, a refreshing Kölsch, and of course, plenty of IPAs.
His journey in Detroit-style pizza, meanwhile, began after he moved away from Detroit, craving the flavors of his hometown. He trained with Detroit pizza chef Shawn Randazzo, who won the 2012 World Champion Pizza Maker award and helped train the staff at Assembly Brewing before he passed away last December. Assembly Brewing’s site boasts the traits that set Detroit-style pizza apart from the rest: 70 percent hydration dough, a rectangular shape, pepperoni on top of the dough, caramelized cheese crispy edges, sauce on top of cheese, a crispy bottom, and light, chewy middle. I’ve never been to Detroit, but if Assembly Brewing’s pizza is indeed true to what you’d find there, then I think it’s time for me to start planning a pizza pilgrimage.