It’s the circle of life. As one mighty deep-dish pizza joint, the much-beloved Windy City Pizza pop-up in Gyeongnidan, takes what we hope is a temporary break from activities before opening as a brick-and-mortar operation, a new pizzeria inspired by the flavours of Chicago’s sister city of Detroit rises to take its place.
[Note: No money, free food or other inducement was asked for or received in return for this post. Soju Sunrise accepts freebies only very occasionally and will always explicitly state if this is the case.]
Motor City, on Itaewon’s main drag sandwiched between Starbucks and Lobster Bar, is brought to you by the guys behind the wildly and deservedly popular Manimal across the road. The concept is simple; Detroit-style pizza, which shares at least some of its DNA with the deep dish pie that Chicago pizzerias offer (a statement that will no doubt earn me life bans from both cities).
Detroit pizza is notable for its square shape (actually rectangular, but if they want to call it square, who are we to argue?), its crunchy, almost fried crust, and for the trick of assembling the toppings in something like the reverse of the normal order; pepperoni first, cheese next, and a big ol’ dollop of red tomato sauce on the top. I know about as much about Detroit pizza as I do about differential calculus, but I know what I like, and I like Motor City pizza.
I managed to entice a group of eight of us to its third evening of operations, and we tried a selection of pizzas, all of which were at least very good and in some cases excellent. Before we got to the pies, we ordered up some chicken wings, which come slathered in some Manimal BBQ sauce and served with a herb ranch dip. There’s a few different appetisers and sides if you want to branch out from the pizza side of the menu.
The wings were good. On the small side, unfortunately, as is typical in Korea with a few exceptions, but tasty nonetheless. The saucing was zesty rather than gloopily sweet, the dip was cool and refreshing. I’m not sure I’d put this up there with Gino’s NY Pizza in wing terms, and certainly not quite up to the excellence of Mix & Malt’s buffalo wings – but literally finger-licking good, these were gone in seconds.
Pizzas were next. First up was the regular pepperoni. As previously noted, Detroit pizza is quite different from the round pie popularised by the state’s most famous chain restaurant, Domino’s. (We forgive you, Michigan.) The first and most famous of Detroit pizzerias, the legendary Buddy’s, actually used steel pans from automobile factories in its early days of operation, resulting in a crust that is chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside.
As you’ll see, the crust really does look as if it’s been fried, and gives a very satisfying crunch when eaten. Terrific.
Next up we tried the “Jackson 5” pizza [below], which combines pepperoni, bacon and some ranch sauce to give a slightly sharper, creamier flavour to the pizza.
I hadn’t expected to like this, never having understood Americans’ love affair with ranch dressing; but it was arguably my favourite of those that I tried. I only got one slice, or square, or whatever they call it, but I could have eaten a whole one without even inhaling. For the record, one pie serves about two people, though if you are very hungry or (like me) fat, two between three might be preferable, or try some of their sides and appetisers.
After a short wait for this one, our next two pizzas arrived in short order. The “La Mafia” pizza [below] was many people’s second favourite, a typically Italian mix of sausage, peppers and olives. Unusually, there was also a slightly sweet edge to the sauce, due to the addition of a little bit of orange marmalade – but don’t let you put that off, as it was very subtle, and balanced out by the grated parmesan over the top. I liked this a lot.
Last up, “The lamb and the goat” pizza – or should that be G.O.A.T.? – was a mixture of lamb sausage and goat’s cheese [below], with some roasted cherry tomatoes and a bit of cilantro and scallion scattered over the top.
This is where opinion divided a bit. The choice of goat’s cheese gives it an unusual, punchy flavour that’s not to everyone’s tastes and unusual for pizza in this country. I wanted more cheese on it, not less – I thought the flavour was understated, if anything – but proceed with caution. A thumbs up from me, but not my favourite of the four pies we tried. That said, a couple of my Korean friends awarded it first place, so there you go.
As is now to be expected in the better foreign food restaurants around the city, there’s a small but solid beer selection, and quite a few spirits on offer. When will more Korean restaurants start offering IPAs with their galbi?
The decor is smart industrial chic and the furniture matched that aesthetic. The owners have branded this as “casual dining” and the atmosphere delivers that. There’s also a bar, at which I could see myself having a beer and a pizza on my way home. Bring a date here if he or she likes food; if they don’t care about food and just want you to waste money on them, go elsewhere.
Opened in the first days of July, Motor City is still very much in its soft opening phase and we were politely asked to be understanding of any kinks in the food or service. Apart from one tantalising moment when a pizza was put down at our table, photographed by yours truly and then whisked away by an apologetic waiter who’d delivered it to the wrong table, the service was top notch. Everything was great and everyone in our party left happy and stuffed.
All in all, I thought Motor City was terrific, and pretty decent value for this part of town – an order of wings and a pizza would be plenty for two normal people and cost around 15 – 18,000 per head. The pizzas were uniformly very good, the crust crunchy and satisfying, the toppings and flavours lively and fresh.
Criticisms? The only comment I could make was that sticking a large spoonful of tomato sauce over the top of all your pizzas makes them tend to taste more similar to each other than you’d expect from the ingredients and descriptions – but I can’t say if that is a feature of Detroit pizza more generally, or Motor City’s offerings more specifically. Also, some of the photos I’ve seen online suggested slightly overcooked pizzas; however, we didn’t find that to be an issue at all.
Whatever, I have no hesitation in saying that I enjoyed everything I ate at Motor City and will be back as soon as I can. The Manimal brand is fast becoming a sign of quality and I’m intrigued to see what these guys come up with next. I’d have no hesitation in recommending Motor City to anyone who likes good unpretentious food in the Itaewon area.
- Category: American
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: Jackson 5 pizza (20,000 won)
- Subway: Itaewon Station (이태원역) exit 4 / Noksapyeong station (녹사평역) exit 3
- Hours: During the soft opening, Motor City will be closed on Tuesdays. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday they’ll open from 5:30-10:30pm for dinner, and on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon until 10:30-11pm for lunch and dinner, with a 4-5:30pm break time. Check out their Facebook page to be sure.
- Directions: Motor City is above Starbucks, on the western end of the main Itaewon road near McDonald’s and opposite Vato’s. From Itaewon station exit 4, walk along the road until you hit Starbucks; Motor City is the door and stairs to the left.