Sam’s Square Pie
2.5 stars (out of three)
2829 E. 10th St.
Thu–Sat, 3–8 p.m.

I got my first taste of Jeff Miner’s lofty, crusty-edged Detroit-style pizza early last June at the loading dock of the Stutz Building on North Capitol. It was topped with pepperoni and lots of gooey brick cheese, and it was airy and perfectly chewy, a beguiling mix of textures with a signature stripe of tangy, slightly chunky sauce across the top.

Man seated with pizza
Sam’s owner Jeff Miner. Photo by Tony Valainis

Miner, who was going solo at one of the dozens of pop-ups he’d staged across the city since the early pandemic, fussed over the parbaked crust, making sure he had everything right before he slid the pie into a portable convection oven he’d brought with him, a true pizza obsessive in action. And it had only taken me two years to get a slice.

That’s because Miner, a longtime NFL Skycam operator and videographer, had created such an online following for his limited-edition operation that his inventory typically sold out mere minutes after the orders went live. I’d never been quick enough. But once I tasted his work, I knew I’d be back for more.

The inspiration for a career change came when Miner was covering a game in Denver and stopped in at the famed Blue Pan Pizza. “I went back for a concert, and I had it again,” Miner says. “I learned that the pans were once the ones [used] for oil changes that Italian American women working in Detroit cleaned up and used to make these amazing pizzas.”

That story—and the taste—inspired Miner to make his own, including three for his brother, the late and legendary DJ Ron Miner, better known to fans as Indiana Jones, on his 50th birthday.

Restaurant interior
The dining room of Sam’s Square Piessams. Photo by Tony Valainis

“It was a party in June of 2020, when people were starting to do things outside. A lot of the crowd were restaurant chefs, as well as DJs and fashion people. They said the pizzas were so good I had to start making them for real.”

Six months later, when his brother died unexpectedly, Miner saw it as a sign. “It’s so strange that through a grief like that you fifind some brightness,” he says.

Since early February, that brightness has been a permanent pizzeria in the onetime home of 18th Street Brewery on East 10th Street. Now, devoted fans and first-time customers don’t have to rush to snag a pie, and Miner has slowly settled into life as a full-time restaurateur, though his hours, for now, are limited to three nights a week.

Pizza on peel
A Sicilian-style pie at Sam’s Square Pies. Photo by Tony Valainis

Miner has dressed the slender space with decor from local artists, such as a mural of flowers by Megan Jefferson and whimsical wire sculptures by Louisville-based Joel Pinkerton. He’s still applying for a liquor license, and he hopes to have bands doing “Tiny Sam’s Concerts” in the months ahead.

He also installed a Forza PizzaMaster oven, which has allowed him to refine his pies even further. He offers an idiosyncratic shortlist of cheese and meat-topped pies, such as the Bitchin Camaro, a pepperoni-lover’s dream, and the El Jefe, with pepperoni, kicked-up Italian sausage, and ricotta enlivened with garlic and jalapeños. Most pies get a restrained drizzle of hot honey, though the sweetness is subtle, and customers can request that the kitchen leave it off.

This is not the place to customize your pizza with a laundry list of typical toppings. “I want it to be like some of my favorite New York shops, where they have just pepperoni or cheese slices, and the line is down the block,” Miner says. These are filling, satisfying pies with Miner’s signature on just about every slice. That means that sometimes the edges are a little crustier or browner, or a slightly bubblier rise requires the kitchen to press the toppings down on the crust so they don’t slide off. It’s as far from mass-produced as pizza gets.

Garlic knots
Garlic knots from Sam’s Square Pies. Photo by Tony Valainis

Miner has also added a few smaller-sized crusts to his menu most nights, and he’s experimented with Sicilian crusts, which are a bit thinner, larger, and without the Detroit style’s signature browned-cheese frico. If they’re available, get one, especially if it’s the High Plains Drifter with hot Italian sausage, pesto, ricotta, and smoked maple syrup, a creative combo that garnered Miner a second place ranking in both the Pan Pizza and Detroit-Style categories at the recent International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.

Very respectable garlic knots and cheese bread are the only other options, though they’re likely to spoil your appetite for the main feature. After all, if I waited two years for my pizza, you can wait a few more minutes for yours.

Vibe: Neighborhood pizzeria
Tasting Notes: Textbook Detroit-style pan pizzas with sturdy, high-rising crusts, a crackly cheese frico around the edge, and loads of tasty toppings
Neighborhood: Rivoli Park
Must-order: The El Jefe pie with two styles of pepperoni, Italian sausage, dollops of tangy jalapeño-garlic ricotta, and a drizzle of hot honey