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Chef Zack Sklar is obsessed with Detroit-style pizza. 

He describes his family as "Buddy's connoisseurs." He's studied and dissected the pizza at Loui's. He knows how Jet's Pizza makes its ranch dressing. He has strong opinions about how Detroit-style pizza is done in other cities. 

He spent a year perfecting a Detroit-style pizza that he'll serve at Como's in Ferndale when it reopens this spring.

"How do you take a classic and make it better," he said. His answer is to make pizza "though a chef's lens" and use quality, fresh ingredients and not overwork the dough.

He's studied the godfathers of Detroit-style pizza — Buddy's, Hazel Park's Loui's, etc. — and has spent months cooking until he convinced his friends and family that he's made a deep dish pie that holds up to and could be better than those that put Detroit on the pizza map. 

Sklar and his Peas and Carrots Hospitality Group — which also owns Social Kitchen & Bar in Birmingham, Mex restaurant in Bloomfield Hills and other restaurants in Grand Rapids and Chicago — are in the process of renovating and breathing new life into the longstanding Ferndale neighborhood pizzeria, which closed last year after several high-profile issues with the health department. 

Last week I was invited to interview the restaurateur and taste this Detroit-style pizza that he's put through his accomplished chef lens. It's definitely remarkable. Time will tell, though, if it's considered by the masses to be as good as the other titans. Part of people's love for Buddy's and the like, I believe, is nostalgia. 

Sklar's is very crunchy for a thicker pizza. This is partly because the tomato sauce is placed on top of the cheese instead of between the cheese and the bread. During baking the sauce reduces and becomes thicker and steam from the sauce can get out and doesn't gummy up the bread.

That sauce is raw, too. It's made with San Marzano tomatoes, raw garlic and fresh basil and although the sauce is laid on lightly, those flavors burst through. Chef Sklar is also holding back with the cheese, which is imported Italian cheese, because he really wants the bread to shine. 

All toppings will be fresh and made in-house. The sausage will be made there; if they use pickled jalapenos on a pizza, they will pickle the jalapenos in-house. Sklar says he won't be following the current trend of crazy toppings, though. No white sauce, no cheeseburger pizza, he says. "I'm not going to do weird stuff." 

This dough, though. Cheese is one of my favorite things in this world, but good pizza is defined by its crust. Sklar says that while most pizza makers use commercial yeast, he is making his pizza with a naturally fermented sourdough starter. He'll only mix his dough for 90 seconds versus the more standard 10-12 minutes.

This creates Sklar's desired effect: A pizza crust that can taste different with each bite. Some of the bread will have big air holes, some will have a tighter "honeycomb," as it's called. One consistent thing will be crispy, crave-able corner pieces. Sklar is so big on corner pieces that he's going to serve a large as two smalls, just so there are more corners to go around. 

For decades the pizza served at Como's was the thin and round and not the thick, Detroit-style deep dish. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Sklar will make changes to Como's. In its later years the spot was plagued with restaurant violations and terrible on-line reviews, so we're hoping he does make changes and doesn't keep much more than the name, the neighborhood-friendly vibe and late-night hours.

"I think what's important is people know that it's still Como's, a pizza restaurant, but it's a different style of pizza," he said. "We're kind of rejuvenating the classic, kind of changing it ... and it's selfish of me because this is my favorite style of pizza."

When Como's 2.0 opens this spring Sklar says it will be approachable, family-friendly and pizza-centric. There will 20 beers on tap. Sunday brunch will be a huge feature, which Sklar envisions to be like a big party, indoors and out. 

Another feature will be a tasting room for Traverse City Whiskey Co. The separate bar area will fix whiskey-based classic cocktails and sell bottles of the Michigan-made craft spirits. This is the distillery's first bar outside of its tasting room in Traverse City. 

Sklar calls the renovation a "total gut job" but assures it won't be glitzy or over-the-top. Some LED lighting was added to the iconic Como's sign out front, and he's already talking about scaling that back to the original look. 

Como's is at 22812 Woodward in Ferndale. 

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

 

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