Chicago, the windy city, is such a pizza lovers’ paradise that the famous city has not just one style of pizza but two styles of pizza. Hey, this was news to us as well until we actually visited Chicago. We said we wanted Chicago style pizza and they asked us which one?
As were we, you are probably already familiar with Chicago deep-dish pizza with its thick layers of cheese in a deep-dish pan. It’s one of the most well-known pizzas styles in the U.S. But apart from this deep dish pizza, Chicago has another famous pizza style, and that is Chicago tavern style pizza.
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What is Chicago Tavern Style Pizza?
Chicago Tavern-style pizza is a popular pizza that locals adore. The tavern-style pizza isn’t as famous as deep dish pizza, which seems to get the Chicago buzz, especially for visitors to Chicago who want to experience the pizza that some refer to as a casserole. But tavern style has been around for a long time too.
Chicago tavern-style pizza has a thin crust with cheese that is almost all the way to the crust. It’s cut in squares, almost like an afterthought. The squares are uneven and not perfect squares. Some theories explain that pizza is cut in squares so you can hold a slice in one hand and a beer in the other. Others claim the squares are for children to be able to enjoy a slice.
Bars and taverns originally started serving up Chicago tavern-style pizza as a way to give something to drinkers to munch on while they drank. Some bars serve salty popcorn or peanuts to keep patrons thirsty for more, but in Chicago, a little square slice of thin-crust pizza keeps bar patrons satisfied.
This sounds awfully similar to our own Minnesota style pizza found in bars here in MN.
St. Louis-Style Pizza vs. Chicago Tavern-Style Pizza
Chicago tavern-style pizza has obvious differences from Chicago deep-dish pizza, from the thickness of the crust to how it’s cut. It seems that this tavern style pizza from Chi-town actually has more in common with St. Louis-style pizza.
So much so that we thought we would break down the similarities and differences. Pizza snobs, please look the other way.
Both pizza styles start with a very thin cracker-like crust. The dough is rolled out with a rolling pin rather than hand tossed. The only real difference in the crust is that Chicago Tavern-style pizza dough has yeast, and St. Louis-style pizza dough does not.
Chicago Tavern-style pizza and St. Louis-style both use a lot of cheese and place it right to the edge of the crust, but St. Louis-style pizza uses Provel cheese, a white processed cheese with a mix of provolone, cheddar, and Swiss.
Processed Provel cheese melts well and generously covers the top of the pizza. While Chicago Tavern-style opts for a low-moisture mozzarella. Both styles keep the toppings to a minimum mainly because the cracker-like crust can’t hold more than a topping or two. Pepperoni, sausage, and delicious mushrooms are common toppings for both.
The sauce has some key differences. St. Louis-style pizza is known for its tangy oregano-filled sauce, while Chicago Tavern-style relies on crushed tomatoes for a slightly sweeter sauce.
How to Make Chicago Tavern-Style Pizza at Home
To start with, you will need a rolling pin to make the dough nice and thin. From there, you will need the following:
- 2 ¼ cups of bread flour
- 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon yeast
- ⅔ cup of cold water
- ¼ cup olive oil
Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Cover and let the dough rest for fifteen minutes. Then place dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth, usually takes about 5-10 minutes.
Next, separate the dough into two balls. Place each ball in a pizza dough-proofing box or container that is three times as large to allow for fermentation. Let the dough ferment for three hours on the counter or overnight in the refrigerator.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator one hour before rolling it out. Use a rolling pin on a floured surface, roll the dough out on a nonstick surface, and let cure for three hours. Then top with sauce and toppings. Bake for 7-10 minutes at 450º F.
- 1 can of San Marzano tomatoes drained
- 3 Tablespoons of tomato paste
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of oregano or Italian seasonings
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons of olive oil
To make the pizzas, ladle sauce on the rolled-out crust and sprinkle grated low-moisture mozzarella.
Choose your toppings. Chicago Tavern-style pizza usually only has one topping, either sliced pepperoni, cured Italian sausage, mushrooms, or peppers. The crust is too thin to hold much more than that.
When it comes out of the oven, let it sit a minute or two to firm up, then slice it into squares. These round pizzas are always cut in squares but don’t worry about being precise. As long as they are in squares, it doesn’t matter if one is bigger than the other.
- Serve with spicy Chicago-style giardiniera for a true Chicago/Italian experience. Not pizza al taglio, though.
- Sprinkle with a pinch of red pepper flakes before serving.
- Tavern-style pizza should be served with an ice-cold beer, and we specifically suggest a pilsner or lager.
Places to Eat Chicago Tavern-Style Pizza
If you find yourself in Chicago, make time to try authentic Chicago Tavern-style pizza at one of these locations for some truly Chicago-flavored food.
Barnaby’s is located at 960 Skokie Blvd, Northbrook, IL 60062
Try the sausage pizza. And get an order of breaded zucchini. Trust us, they are so good.
Candlelite is located at 7452 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60645
La Villa is located at 3632 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60641
Their Veggie Alfredo pizza is amazing. But before you get to the pizza, slurp down some raw oysters or dig into their baked clam appetizers.
Aurelio’s Pizza is located at 1212 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605
Their sausage and hot giardiniera pizza is the best. Don’t forget to try the toasted ravioli.
Have you tried ever Chicago Tavern-style pizza before? Or which Chicago-style pizza is your favorite? We don’t hold any grudges here.