Ben Phillips was having trouble finding the right food truck for his business. So he bought one new from Kansas City, Missouri, and drove it back to Eugene. That nearly 2,000-mile road trip is fitting for a food truck that sells pizzas named after Motor City.
A Little Pizza Oregon is Phillips’ first restaurant business, and it’s a venture that’s focused on bringing a special type of pizza to Eugene: Detroit-style. Phillips doesn’t actually have ties to Detroit, but he says it’s a type of pizza that he says allows him to express some creativity.
It seems like no food has as many geographical names as pizza. There are pizzas named after Naples, New York, Chicago and Detroit. But what makes Detroit-style different from other pizzas is its square or rectangular shape and being cooked in a pan.
In 2017 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Oregon. He worked for Apple until he says he decided to be his own boss and pursue his passion for food.
He chose to open a food truck that focuses on Detroit-style pizza after trying most of Eugene’s pizza joints. He says the area didn’t have a pizza place that focused on Detroit-style, so combining that fact with the potential for creativity, he opened the pizza truck in November 2021.
Phillips’ pizza takes days to get to the oven, as it goes through a fermentation process that ranges from two days to one week. “Good pizza dough is fermented,” he says. He adds that he first learned about fermenting dough after reading restaurateur Tony Gemignani’s The Pizza Bible: The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and More. Phillips says that not only does fermented dough taste better, but he doesn’t have to worry about making fresh dough every morning.
After being fermented, the dough is parbaked, meaning partially baked, so later, after they order, customers only wait about 15 to 20 minutes for their pizza instead of 30 to 40 minutes, he says.
Then there’s the sauce. Phillips says it’s a simple base of Italian tomatoes, salt and a little olive oil. “They’re such great tomatoes, they don’t need anything else,” he adds.
As for the creativity Detroit-style pizza recipes allow, sure, Phillips has the usual pizzas, but when it comes to the vegan versions, he doesn’t just do fake meat adaptations. “There’s so much good food that’s already vegan that I don’t think there’s a reason to make a really processed version,” he says.
One vegan pizza on his menu brings together jackfruit, BBQ sauce and vegan Miyoko cashew-based cheese. He had first made that recipe for his mother, who’s vegan, and it earned a place on the menu. “It’s not quite the same as the usual pizza with tomato sauce,” he says, adding that the inspiration also came from TrackTown Pizza’s popular BBQ chicken pizza.
Carnivores and cheese lovers need not worry, though, because Phillips’ meat and dairy pizzas sound just as good.
I watch as Phillips loads a square pizza dough with tomato sauce, cheese, sausage and olives and slides it into the food truck’s oven. When he pulls the pizza out, the grease from the sausage is bubbling at the corners of the pan, and I can smell the pizza through my mask — it turns out KN95 masks can’t keep the smell of pizza away.
As he takes the pizza out of the pan and into a box, I see its “cheese crown.” Because it’s cooked in a pan, the grease and cheese form a “crown” along the edges of the pizza.
Later, I take a bite of the small, square-shaped pizza. The crust is soft but has some crunch from the sizzled cheese. And all that sausage grease cooks into dough. If there’s one downside to Phillips’ pizza, it’s that it’s gone too fast.
The food cart is located on Millrace Drive, across the street from the University of Oregon’s main campus. Many of Phillips’ customers work at the nearby business office, and he’s taking his truck to events at local wineries. But he says he’s hoping students will start heading over for lunch.
Students, take a lesson from me: Crossing Franklin Boulevard is a small distance to travel to get a taste of Detroit.
A Little Pizza Oregon is at 1776 Millrace Drive. To stay updated on menus, hours and locations, visit ALittlePizzaOregon.com.