Anthony Calleo, a Houston chef who has built a reputation deeply embedded in the world of pizza, is making a full-time return with what will be the first pizza joint to exclusively serve Detroit-style pizza in Houston.
Gold Tooth Tony’s — the restaurateur’s latest vision — opens Monday, September 11, with limited capacity to start, at 1901 North Shepherd Drive in the Heights area. The restaurant will offer rectangular, crispy-edged, cheesy 10- and 14-inch pies loaded with creative, sometimes quirky combinations of ingredients. The Pep is topped with two styles of pepperoni, including the “lil’ cuppy guys,” and the Marg, a margarita made with marinated tomato, goat milk feta, garlic, and basil, stay classic, while others, like the Compote V.2. with cherry jam and spiced pecans, and the Mac Attack is Back, sprinkled with mac and cheese, bacon, and “vibes” are more daring. (The 181 Heights — layered with arugula pesto, almonds, chili flakes, lemon zest, and fennel pollen — is likely a nostalgic ode to the Pi brick-and-mortar, which was once located at 181 Heights Boulevard).
The menu also offers other standouts, including what Calleo describes as a grandma-style, down-home lasagna, sandwiches and subs, pizza queso, garlic knots, and super crispy General Tso’s chicken wings. Otherwise, the no-frills restaurant stays strong on its pizza focus, meaning no booze, and really, no dine-in service. Aside from two high-top tables and a total of four stools, the 1,000-square-foot, cashless restaurant offers takeout and delivery within a 5-mile radius from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily, a timeframe that Calleo said was essential to him for people who also work the food industry and eat late like him. Diners can place their orders with the shop, online, or with a third-party food delivery service.
“It was [also] really important to me that it wasn’t a Pi Pizza revenge,” says Calleo, who declined to comment on the downfall of Pi, noting that he’s still a little “salty” about its ending.
The chef launched his first project, the Pi Pizza truck in 2016, which became the beloved, albeit shuttered, brick-and-mortar of the same name in the Heights in 2018.
According to reports, Calleo opened Pi Pizza’s brick-and-mortar in 2016 but left the business in 2018 along with his founding partner, the late Lee Ellis, due to “directional differences” with Cherry Pie Hospitality, the company that operated the restaurant. Following his departure, the hospitality group faced lawsuits, and the restaurant was later acquired by Sambrooks Management, the same company that operates the Pit Room and Candente, but was eventually closed.
Since then, he’s spearheaded the pizza specials as the chef at Rudyard’s and has consulted with pizza joints around the city, like Betelgeuse Betelgeuse, which serves up ironclad-style pizzas and pizza fries.
But Calleo is not harping too much on the past. “A lot of life has happened,” since, Calleo says. “I was 29 when I created [Pi], and I’m 43 now. If it looked exactly the same, that would be weird.”
Creating a completely different menu and vibe for the restaurant at first proved challenging, though. Calleo says he actively tried not to create the same menu as Pi, even reaching out to a close group of friends to help craft a list of “bangers.” Eventually, he resolved that it would be made up of 40 percent re-engineered old recipes and 60 percent that were new. (One of Calleo’s favorites, Sebastian’s Big Idea — a torched pineapple pie topped with seared spam — is named after his college best friend’s son who helped dream up that particular combination). He’s proud of the results so far. “I think they’re better,” he says of the pizza. “And the new stuff is super cool.”
The restaurant has hosted three pop-ups in recent weeks, giving the city a glimpse of what to expect. “It’s a totally different style of pizza that people don’t quite understand,” says Calleo, who seemingly could rant on obsessively about any pizza. Detroit-style pizza is sturdy, with a solid shelf life, he notes. It tastes good lukewarm, or even cold the next day, which also means it travels well, he adds. Best of all — he’s got it down to a science, boiling its allure down to the pan, the cheese, and the dough, a wet and wobbly mixture that’s a cross between focaccia and sourdough, with more yeast and a bigger hole ratio. The cheese — a Wisconsin brick cheese loaded with butter fat — renders the dough and drips down into the pan when cooked to almost fry the bottom of the bread, creating a texture that Calleo compares to Indian fry bread or funnel cake. The pan is a steel concoction crucial to the recipe, creating a burnt and crispy edge on the outside of the pizza.
Calleo says Detroit-style pizza has been on his mind even before opening the brick-and-mortar for Pi Pizza. His fascination started in the 80s, with Little Caesar’s pan pizzas, which were cooked in pans and had a similar crust to Detroit-style pizza. It was further ignited around 11 years ago when visiting Austin’s Via 313 Pizza, which also serves up Detroit-style pizza. Calleo, at that point, had already been experienced in the restaurant world. “I thought, ‘Man, I’m eating pizza, and I’m really good at it. I should learn how to make that,” Calleo recalls, but there was little time to start a separate pizza restaurant. Instead, he made it a side project, selling it on his food truck to pay bills, and in 2019, while working as a consultant, Calleo began serving Detroit-style pizza as a weekly special at the local bar Rudyards, which the restaurateur says now has its own following.
“I’ve made a hell of a living off of pizza,” Calleo says. “And this pizza guy is stoked to give it another go.”