Ode to Niki’s

Eat at Niki's

Somehow, over the past few years, something called, “Detroit Style” pizza has developed – as, once before, noted previously.  In the past, this was sometimes referred to as “Sicilian” style pizza, or, more frequently, ‘round here, simply square.  It was never considered to be a particularly novel, local element, as it seemed ubiquitous, available widely and the source of numerous, square-v-round debates at various gatherings in many parts of the country. 

It’s unclear why this is now considered a Detroit thing, but square has always been our preferred style, and there are a number of local places that make a decent one – including the one, in particular, that is always lauded, ranked as one of the best in the country, and noted as the harbinger of the style.  They make a decent pizza, no doubt, but it doesn’t seem remarkably unique; better than the many, the others –the only one that really sets itself apart, is Niki’s. 

The interior was completely re-done, a few years back

Niki’s is sometimes mentioned, usually as, good, too – I think, 24th in the country, by GQ.  This is incomprehensible…  Niki’s pizza is a masterpiece:  From the unparalleled crust to the presentation – the others are pale comparators.   

We miss the torn, vinyl benches and non-smoking tables

Admittedly, there is extreme sentimental and proximate bias, here.  Many summer days were spent on the little front deck , enjoying pizza, sipping beer, trying to make conversation with the weird suburbanite girls that came down to the big city for the Simply Red concerts, or – more often:  Waxing philosophic with friends, on such haute intellectual topics as, the implication of exhaling flies, instead of smoke when having a cigarette.  It’s remarkable, really, that we haven’t found greater success, over the years…

No Greeks were seen, on this pass.  Way back, this was a choice spot for recent immigrants to land some work.

Yet, even outside of that, the raves of those further out, of their similar haunts with similar style, those pizzas never stacked up – it was simply presumed they had never experienced one of Niki’s outstanding pizzas.

As with the best of the others, the crust cooks up to a marvelous, caramelized crispness, its flavor akin to a slightly yeasty, rustic white bread, infused with olive oil.  Where most pizzas have crust that is present principally as a platform – including most squares – the crust on Niki’s pizza is a critical focus, and perhaps, the best part.  It does not end with that edge – though, it’s best to only order a small, so to maximize the crispy crunch of the crust – but the bread beyond:  Delicious and slightly chewy!  Not tough, at all, but just slightly resistant to the bite, as with a very tender piece of meat, or, tempeh or seitan.  Alone, the crust could be savored, but then – they make it remarkable! 

As with all pizzas in this style, the dough is topped with cheese, but Niki’s adds a sprinkle of feta.  And, in contrast to some places that slather on sauce as if with a roller, or others, that paint two minimalist lines in parallel – sauce is splashed abstractly across the pizza, giving each piece the perfect moisture compliment, bites, the perfect infusion of sauce.  As the pizza bakes, the feta melts and browns, creating a golden ring around the edge, framing the elements of a culinary Matisse.

Sometimes Stella would lean over the fence and threaten to steal our pizza.  We'd over-react, and she'd walk off laughing.

The result is extraordinary, the combination of textures and flavors, unmatched.  The crunchy edge, light but chewy bread, magnificently cradles the slight sweetness of the sauce, counterpointed by the slightly acrid and tangy feta and salt of the mozzarella.  Toppings are essentially irrelevant.

Remember the old parties, in the alley?  Those were good times...

Good pizza has ruined lazy nights.  When exhaustion, or time, or, often, yearning, begs a thought to carry in – we waggle until surrender, resolved against the tough-crust, over-cheesed, franchise disks of disappointment, nearby.  We’d rather make our own – far better, with rare disappointment – other than Niki’s…  Or, Chicago style…  And Brick Street, over in Grand Rapids was the best round to date.  But Niki’s is the best.

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