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Resident brings Detroit-style pizza — and more — to Cape

By KATIE EGAN - | Sep 23, 2021

A sample of the items available on the menu at the Detroit Pizza Joint, which opened recently on Skyline Boulevard in Cape Coral. PHOTO PROVIDED

Todd Stern has been working on his Detroit-style pizza recipes for the past five years.

Now Detroit Pizza Joint (DPJ) is here in Cape Coral and his dream has become a reality.

The pop-up square pizza slice shop is at 3812 Skyline Blvd. in the building formally occupied by Chicago Beef, Dogs and Pizza.

Besides Detroit-style pizza and Detroit Coney dogs, DPJ also has the Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches that Chicago Beef and Dogs were known for.

Detroit pizza is a deep dish square pizza while Chicago-style pizza is a deep dish round.

Stern makes his pies from scratch.

First, he puts the dough in the pan. Then he’ll let it proof in the pan compared to other styles of pizza, making where the dough proofs outside of the pan.

Proofing means letting the pizza dough properly rise before shaping it into pizza.

“I do cheese on the bottom, then toppings, and the sauce is on the top,” Stern said. “Other pizzas do sauce and toppings underneath and cheese on top. What really makes it special is a caramelized cheese on the crust.”

The Detroit Pizza Joint had a soft open on Aug. 26.

So far, the reaction has been great.

Stern has seen a lot of Chicago Beef and Dogs customers and he says they’re excited DPJ is keeping the Chicago hot dogs and Italian sandwiches.

Stern is also seeing some Detroiters.

“Classic Detroit square pizza is hard to find for them,” he said.

The Detroit Coney dogs are also really popular.

The beef frankfurter in natural casing, on a soft, steamed bun, topped with meat, beanless chili, diced white onions and yellow mustard is a Detroit treasure.

“I’m turning on people who come for Chicago dogs into trying Detroit (Coney) dogs,” he said.

Detroit-style pizza is a descendent of Sicilian-style pizza. And a man named Gus Guerra is responsible for bringing it into the world.

In 1946, Guerra’s wife, Anna, borrowed a dough recipe from her Sicilian mother. It would become the model for Detroit pizza.

The key ingredient is the pan.

The thick steel pan is similar to a cast iron skillet. It gives the pizza its soft, light square crust and crisp exterior.

“The pans retain seasoning when they cook the pizza,” Stern said. “Similar to the way a cast iron pan retains its seasoning.”

Legend has it that the initial pan used to create Detroit-style pizza was a spare pan from an automobile factory. As if there could be anything more quintessentially Motor City.

One of Stern’s goals is to be a big part of the community.

He has been a restaurant consultant for eateries throughout Southwest Florida for the past six to seven years.

Finding the space for his restaurant seems like it was meant to be.

He walked into Chicago Beef and Dogs one day, by chance, to see if they needed any consulting work.

The owner mentioned selling the place and Stern had been looking for a space to open his restaurant.

“It all fell into place,” he said.

Opening his restaurant and bringing his native Detroit fare to Cape Coral means everything to Stern.

“I started learning how to cook and bake from my mom and grandmother at 8 years old,” he said. “For my entire life, this has been my passion: preparing food for people and having them enjoy what I do.”

“It’s been a dream come true, not only to open my restaurant but to open it in the Cape,” Stern said, “where I plan on being for awhile.”

In the future, he’d like to open more locations in Southwest Florida, but Cape Coral will be the headquarters.

“We really focus on the littler things,” Stern said. “Making sure the guest has a great experience from the time they walk in to the time they leave. Also the service and making sure they’re getting drink refills, everything they need, learning all of the guests’ names. We want to make sure we’re taking care of people.”

Stern was previously the founder and managing partner of Small Plates in Detroit. The restaurant, which opened in 2002, helped to revitalize the Broadway and theater districts in downtown Detroit.

Stern got the idea for small plates while working on the Spanish Mediterranean.

His take on traditional Spanish dishes won “Best of the Year” from Bon Appetit and Wine Enthusiast.

He’s hoping to recreate what he did for downtown Detroit and help spur other restaurateurs to open in Cape Coral.

“I want to show that there is a huge demand here and huge market here,” he said.

The Detroit Pizza Joint can also cater events and parties.

Stern is not only giving back to his community with the jobs he’ll create in the restaurant, but also with his catering business.

Detroit Pizza Joint’s menu includes the classic cheese pepperoni slice, white pizza, Chicago dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and Detroit Coney dogs.

Stern also wants to expand the made-from-scratch pizzas and baked goods.

Some other popular menu items are treats like salted caramel bars (toffee bars) and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.

“It’s amazing to see the reaction of people trying a real Detroit slice for the first time,” he said. “They really appreciate the freshness and they can tell it’s made from scratch, which is exciting for me because so much work went into it.”

One of Stern’s favorite things to make and eat is the white pizza.

“It’s so fresh and the roasted garlic infused olive oil and caramelized onions and making it from scratch really adds a wonderful flavor,” he said.

Stern enjoys making pizza and seeing his guests’ reactions.

“Detroit square pizza is the fastest growing segment for the pizza industry right now,” he said. “Detroit was always regional but it’s really getting popular all over the U.S.”

That has a lot to do with why Stern wanted to bring his native pizza style to Cape Coral.

“Because Cape Coral hasn’t experienced real Detroit pizza like other states are getting right now,” he said.

The menu’s dessert items have a special place in Stern’s heart.

“My late mother and her mother taught me everything they know,” he said. “I’m so proud of the recipes they’ve developed and they passed it on to me.”

The salted caramel bar is made with a shortbread pie crust, layer of chocolate, layer of caramel and crushed nuts on top.

“People can really taste the butter, fresh chocolate and real vanilla,” Stern said. “They’re really experiencing made from scratch cookies and desserts.”

The Detroit Pizza Joint space features seating for 18 people and an open kitchen.

Décor includes classic Detroit memorabilia such as sports and music with a nod to a retro ’70s Detroit and Chicago feel.

Stern is from Detroit but he also has family in Chicago and would visit the Windy City often when he was younger.

The first time he had pizza was when he was five in Chicago. When he was seven, he had a Chicago dog.

When it comes to Detroit Pizza Joint, “Detroit is Batman and Chicago is Robin,” he said.

And you can’t go wrong with a pair like that.