Cooking with Gas

Karen Rampey scored an instant hit with her Detroit-style pizzeria. Photos by Tim Robison.

Pi-Squared Pizza bubbles out of the pan with a many-layered concept. It takes a few minutes to unpack the notion behind the popular Detroit-style pizza joint — but only seconds to notice how clean the space is. Not just okay, but immaculate. Surfaces gleam like the chrome of any ’50s finned car that rolled off the assembly line in the Motor City’s heyday. The wide-open kitchen — always a promising sign — is visible from several tables.

Although not a Detroit native herself, owner Karen Rampey pays tribute to the Michigan city’s automotive and musical legacies in smiley touches through the restaurant, including gear motifs, plentiful photos of Motown stars, a virtual shrine to Kid Rock, and images of other celebrities, such as Madonna, who were born elsewhere in the state. (Detroit’s most controversial musical star, Eminem, is notably absent from the walls, but Rampey says she plans to order a picture of the rapper, and of veteran actor Tom Selleck, which she’ll hang in the women’s restroom: “It’s only fair, since we have Christie Brinkley in the men’s room.”)

Realizing that Hendersonville already featured New York- and Chicago-style pizza in various eateries, Rampey aimed to bring a different slice of Italian life to the area. The Detroit version, which she discovered while visiting friends in that city, is deep-dish and square, baked in the same kind of steel trays used since the late 1940s (the originals were car-part pans from local factories). Gus Guerra, a Speakeasy owner, fulfilled the craving of returning WWII soldiers who’d enjoyed a different type of pizza while in Europe. Borrowing his wife Anna’s family recipe for Sicilian pizza dough, Guerra perfected a style with a thick, fluffy, crunchy-on-the-bottom crust that’s carmelized at the edges. Olive oil is brushed on the pans first, not mixed in with the dough, and tomato sauce is ladled on last to prevent sogginess. Underneath the sauce, cheese is spread to every corner of the pie.

Garnishing her brand, Rampey lopped off the “e” to get Pi, or 3.14, the rounded-down mathematical constant used by the ancients to compute the dimensions of a circle and by trend-spreaders today to turn Einstein’s serendipitous March birthday (3/14) into “Pi Day” — complete with T-shirts, memes, and related global events.


Thus she deepened the concept. The theory behind Pi-Squared Pizza — besides getting away from the circular notion — is that eating here is a doubly smart choice. Patrons are trying something new and being healthy in the bargain. Well, relatively speaking — deep-dish pizza is rich to the nth degree, and not exactly a dieter’s choice. But the restaurant rightly touts its all-natural ingredients, including handmade dough, top-quality mozzarella, and a lovely authentic sauce. Its foodie options are a point of pride, too. Pi-Squared turns out such progressive creations as the “Fig-Et About It,” a signature, sauceless pie adorned with Mission figs, Gorgonzola cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, red-pepper seeds, and honey.

More is more in Rampey’s world: she also offers round, thin-crust, and gluten-friendly pizzas; classic subs and a Cuban sandwich; and a spectrum of salads, from an ultra-basic version with iceberg to iterations with kale and arugula.

“We want to be the place to go in Hendersonville to get a more traditional pizza, wings, calzones, salads and subs, and also the place for those who want something unique,” she says. The goal is to please: “If one of our specialty pizzas sounds appealing, but the guest wants to customize it by removing an ingredient or adding a different ingredient, we will do it.”

She’ll add beer and wine to the beverage list this month, and eventually, a range of desserts (chocolate-chip cookies fill the sweet spot now). Rampey says response was “overwhelming” from the February 1 opening onward. The restaurant, she says, is “consistently busy … we’ve had transplants from the Detroit area who are thrilled, because they miss [the style of pizza there].” 

Pi-Squared’s menu offers the full range of pizza toppings, but the “Detroiter” house pie is rather simple, uniting only spicy pepperoni and Italian seasonings with the thick cheese and fresh red sauce. While the idea of square pizza slices might rattle diners who are exceptionally set in their ways, the little slabs are decadent and addictive — not exactly a hard sell. Rampey doesn’t mind admitting: “Most people who try it for the first time say it’s the best pizza they’ve ever had.”

Pi-Squared Pizza (1972 Haywood Road, Hendersonville) is open daily for lunch and dinner, Sunday through Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-10pm. 828-693-0799.


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