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All There is to Know About Tavern-Style Pizza

freshly baked tavern style pizza

Pizza prepared in the tavern style is a beloved dish in the American Midwest that has won over many people’s hearts and palates. We’ll explore the world of tavern-style pizza in this article, learning about its origins, distinctive qualities, and cultural significance. This pizza style, which originated in Chicago’s lively neighborhoods, is known for its thin, crispy crust, square-cut slices, and mouthwatering toppings. We’ll learn about its history of production and its significance to the regional cuisine. You’ll get a thorough grasp of what makes this pizza a well-liked local specialty, from the family-owned pizzerias that have maintained tradition to the innovations that keep it exciting and new.


What is Tavern Style pizza?

delicious tavern style pizza
Source: Instagram

Tavern style pizza is of course the pizza that you can find at your local bar. Also sometimes referred to as bar pizza, this type of pizza typically features a much thinner crust than some Italian styles of pizza and deep pan Chicago pizzas. It’s also worth noting that bar pizza isn’t native to any one place in the United States. So even though it has become synonymous with Chicago as another popular pizza variant, it is also widely popular in New York as well as several other cities. Of course, the most notable defining feature of tavern pizza is that beautifully thin crust. It doesn’t differ all that much from New York style pizzas, as even though the crust is relatively thin, it is still pliable enough to fold as you need to. You will also notice that tavern style pizza crust isn’t as crackly as the thinner Chicago style pizza.

freshly made tavern-pizza
Source: Instagram

Tavern style pizza gets that signature crispy crust thanks to its direct contact with the baking pan when it’s roasting in the oven. The theory of course is that patrons will have plenty more room for beer and other alcoholic beverages if the crust is thinner, as there won’t be as much dough to take up room in your stomach. So that is one of the many reasons that you will find a classic tavern style pizza on the menu at your local bar!

chef grating cheese for the tavern style pizza
Source: Instagram

Another thing to note about tavern style pizza that marks it out as different from other styles is of course the toppings. This is because with tavern style pizza, the toppings tend to be spread out across the whole of the pizza. So you will likely see lots of cheese bubbling away at the edge of your pizza. Which means you’re not going to go short on the tasty toppings you choose! Tavern style pizzas also tend to be smaller than other styles of pizza. So if you’re used to going halves with your buddy down the pizzeria, you may wish to opt for a single tavern style pizza to yourself to ensure that you have enough cheesy goodness to go around.

tavern pizza on top of a wooden table
Source: Instagram

Another interesting thing to note about tavern style pizza is that it is often cut into squares. Now, this may confuse pizza connoisseurs who are used to eating the traditional triangles. However, most bars that produced tavern style pizza on the menu didn’t have any cutlery or plates for patrons to use. So bar style pizza could be cut into squares and served on napkins, making for easier eating. These squares also made it easier to share out your tavern style pizza with your drinking buddies.

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What is Tavern Style Crust?

a slice of pepperoni tavern style pizza
Source: Instagram

Tavern style pizza has a slightly different crust to other styles of pizza. This is partly down to how it is produced before the tavern style pizza is cooked. When it was first invented, tavern style pizza was made popular by those who weren’t big bakers, but happened to own bars and wanted to put pizza on the menu. So whereas traditional pizzas are typically made using hand stretched dough, tavern style pizza dough tends to be rolled fairly thin before the toppings get anywhere near it. Sometimes mechanical sheeters are used to help create the thinner crust needed for tavern style pizzas. This is one way that chefs can speed up the process of making tavern style pizza, which then of course results in an even thinner crust.

cheesy tavern style
Source: Instagram

If you’ve eaten a tavern style pizza and compared its crust to that of a regular pizza, you will notice that it is remarkably chewy as well as crispy. It may seem confusing that a pizza crust can be both chewy and crispy at the same time. However, this crispy crust is just pliable enough to make it easy to fold up as you would with a New York style pizza. It is also worth noting that tavern style pizza is cooked for slightly longer to achieve that remarkable crunchy crust that has become synonymous with the style of pizza.


Who Invented Tavern Pizza?

square sliced tavern style pizza
Source: Instagram

Trying to pin down the origins of tavern style pizza is a tricky business. There doesn’t seem to be a single inventor of tavern style pizza as such. Instead, this is a tasty treat that has evolved over time until it reached the popularity synonymous with bar style pizza. It may surprise you to learn that tavern style pizza is actually the original Chicago pizza. It all started back in just after the prohibition era. Pizza didn’t really catch on in popularity until shortly after the second world war, and it certainly didn’t become as popular as it is today until after it became popular in New York. As we’ve already discussed briefly above, tavern style pizza is made very differently from other types of pizza. This is because the dough was rolled out instead of hand-stretched, in a method that was popularized by people who weren’t familiar with the traditions of pizza making.

fresh and delicious tavern style pizza
Source: Instagram

Once alcohol was allowed to be consumed again by the masses, tavern style pizza was crafted to hand out to patrons for them to enjoy alongside their beer. Some tavern owners even stated that pizza was beer’s best friend because of how well the two treats go well together. This pizza would be cut into squares and handed out with napkins to try and encourage people to stay in the bars and spend more money on alcohol. So even though it’s unknown who exactly invented tavern style pizza, it’s safe to say that it’s become synonymous with Chicago culture and spread in popularity around the world!


Why is it Called Tavern Pizza?

Source: Instagram

It’s fairly obvious to see where tavern style pizza gets its name from once you know its origins. Tavern style pizza of course gets its name from the fact that it started off being sold in taverns and bars around Chicago to try and encourage patrons to stay and spend more money on beer. Tavern style pizza can often be referred to as bar style pizza or even party style pizza because of its rich history. This pizza is often cut up into squares to make it even easier for people to share out in the bar. Because tavern style pizza has several marked differences between itself and regular pizza, it’s fairly easy to see why this pizza has a name in its own right. After it first became popular in the 1940s, this is a classic treat that has stood the test of time. And it still lives up to its name, being served in pubs and taverns around the world, not to mention its city of origin.

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What is the Difference Between Tavern Pizza and Regular Pizza?

Crispy square-cut tavern-style pizza with cheese and pepperoni.
Source: Instagram

There are several noticeable differences between tavern pizza and regular pizza. Tavern style pizza was of course developed by those who weren’t familiar with the nuances of pizza making. So rather than hand stretching the dough, the pizza dough tends to be rolled very very thin before it is turned into tavern style pizza. Some chefs will even use a mechanical sheeter to get a thinner crust. Unlike regular pizza where the toppings are mainly placed around the center of the dish, tavern style pizza features cheese oozing over the edge of the crust. So you won’t have to worry about the bar skimping out on your favorite toppings!

Freshly baked square tavern-style pizza with a variety of toppings.
Source: Instagram

It is also worth noting that traditional pizza tends to be cooked at very hot temperatures on a pizza stone. Tavern style pizza gets its signature crispy crust from an extended cooking time and direct contact with the baking pan. You will also find that your tavern style pizza is a lot smaller than your usual 16-inch regular pizza. It is also typically cut into squares instead of triangles.


Where Was Tavern Pizza Invented?

Classic Chicago tavern pizza topped with melted cheese
Source: Instagram

Even though the deep pan pizza is synonymous with Chicago, the tavern style pizza was actually the first style of pizza to come out of the city. As we’ve mentioned above, tavern style pizza became a popular invention after the prohibition era, and once people had noticed that pizza was a popular dish in New York. Tavern style pizza originated in several pizzerias throughout Chicago, so it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly it originated. However, it definitely originated in the city of Chicago, and was often given out to patrons on napkins to try and encourage them to stay and drink more beer in the bar.


What Toppings go on Tavern Pizza?

Freshly baked square tavern-style pizza with a golden, crispy crust.
Source: Instagram

The possibilities are endless when it comes to tavern pizza. You are only limited in terms of your imagination, as well as what your particular bar is offering on the menu. The vast majority of toppings will of course stick to the classic tomato sauce with generous helpings of gooey mozzarella cheese. Pepperoni is the most popular topping of choice, however, mushrooms are sometimes a popular option. There is a whole load of toppings to choose from when it comes to tavern style pizza, and they will generally vary depending on the bar. Some bars will opt for more gourmet toppings whereas others will stick with foolproof classics such as pepperoni.


How to Make Tavern Pizza

Freshly baked square tavern-style pizza with a variety of toppings.
Source: Instagram

So now that we’ve got your mouth watering, you will of course be wondering how you can make your very own tavern style pizza from the comfort of your own kitchen, right? After all, not all of us can afford the spontaneous trip to Chicago just to taste the authentic thing on a whim! Below is a basic recipe for making your very own tavern style pizza. We’re going to cover the basics of how you can make the base and the sauce, and suggest some toppings that you might want to try.


Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup of cold water, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tsps of caster sugar
  • 1 tsp of table salt
  • 1 ½ tsps of rapid rise or instant yeast
  • 2 tbsps of EVOO
  • Cornmeal, for dusting your baking sheet
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For the Sauce

  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 tsps of caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • ½ tsp of fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp of Italian seasoning

Topping Suggestions (Choose 2 or 3)

  • Pepperoni
  • Italian sausage
  • Parma ham
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Pineapple
  • Ham
  • Roasted veggies

Directions

  1. First, you will need to make the pizza dough from scratch. Using your food processor, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and yeast. Blitz using the pulse setting for around 3 seconds, or until the mixture is well combined.
  2. Next, you will need to add the oil and water to your ingredients. With the processor still running, pour the oil through the feeding chute. Now you will need to slowly add your water. We’d suggest adding it at a dash at a time so that it has time to fully incorporate into your dough. You’ll know the dough is ready when it clears the sides of the food processor bowl.
  3. Once the dough is ready, you can remove it from your food processor ready for kneading. Lightly dust your counter with flour, then place your prepared dough on this. Knead the tavern pizza dough until it is smooth. This should take you around 1 minute.
  4. Make sure to shape your dough into a ball, then place it in a bowl. Cover this using plastic wrap, then allow your dough to prove at room temperature. You will know when it’s finished proving once the dough has doubled in size. This typically takes between 2 to 2 ½ hours.
  5. An hour before you wish to bake your tavern style pizza, preheat your oven to 500℉. If you have a pizza stone, allow this to preheat inside the oven. Place this on the lower rack of your oven. If you are using a baking pan, keep this to one side.
  6. While the oven is preheating and you are waiting for the dough to prove, you can prepare your sauce. In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients, and whisk together until well combined. This can be kept in your refrigerator for up to 2 days.
  7. Once the oven is up to heat and the dough is ready, you can then start to assemble your tavern style pizza. To make two 12 inch pizzas, half your dough. Start by shaping one half of the dough by rolling it into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, use your fingers to flatten the dough ball. Next, take your floured rolling pin, and roll your base into a rough 12 inch circle. You can use light dustings of additional flour as needed. 
  8. You can then repeat the process with the second ball of dough. Sprinkle your cornmeal over your pizza stone or baking pan, as well as on your prepared pizza peel.
  9. Now you can start assembling your tavern style pizza. Divide the pizza sauce between your two pizzas. You can ladle this onto your dough, then use the ladle or the back of a spoon to spread this around your dough. When it comes to choosing the toppings for your tavern style pizza, the world is your oyster. However, we would recommend choosing cheddar as one of these ingredients so that you can then sprinkle this all over your pizza. Next, you can top it with your pepperoni, Italian sausage, mozzarella, or whatever toppings take your fancy.
  10. Use your pizza peel to transfer the tavern style pizza onto your prepared pizza stone or baking pan. 
  11. You will need to cook your two pizzas separately. Each pizza should take between 10 to 14 minutes to cook properly. You’ll know when the pizza is finished once the cheese has that glorious browning on top.
  12. Once your tavern style pizza has finished cooking, use your pizza peel to transfer it from the pizza stone or baking pan to your cutting board. Allow the pizza to cool for around 5 minutes before using a sharp knife to cut it into squares. Serve your tavern style pizza with a side of fries and a lovely cool beer!

4 Comments

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  1. I don’t know where you get your information, but fennel Italian sausage is the #1 topping on Chicago tavern style pizza, not pepperoni. Get your facts straight.

  2. Richard is exactly right. Fennel Italian sausage is the top ingredient on a Chicago thin crust pizza. It is known as “tavern style” because of the square cut. The small squares of pizza were easy to hold while also holding your beer mug. The article states that the “tavern style” pizza is easy to fold like a New York pizza. Absolutely NOT true. Fold a thin crust Chicago pizza is like trying to fold a saltine cracker if the pizza has been cooked properly. A lot of this article did not ring true. You do not need to spread corn meal on your baking stone, just on your peel to help the raw pizza to slide onto your stone. Once cooked on the stone, the pizza will come off easily. Cheddar cheese does not belong on a Chicago thin crust pizza.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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