The Real Chicago-style Pizza isn’t Deep Dish

You’ll want some authentic Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza when you visit the Windy City. But, don’t miss out on the very different kind of pizza that the locals eat everyday.

Tavern-style Pizza origin story

Vito & Nick’s Tavern-style Pizza (image: vitoandnicks.com)

There’s a joke among Chicagoans that they only time they eat Deep Dish Pizza is when out-of-towners come to visit. Surely, an exaggeration, but the most popular kind of pizza in Chicago is a Windy City invention called Tavern-style Pizza, the polar opposite of the knife and fork Deep Dish.

Like all good foodie origin stories, the tale of the invention Tavern-style Pizza in Chicago is murky. But, Vito & Nick’s probably can lay claim to the invention of this kind of pie.

As my pal Jon Porter of Chicago Pizza Tours told me on my podcast, Destination Eat Drink, Vito & Nick’s started serving Tavern-style pizza in 1946 when Vito’s son, Nick, returned from WWII. The family had owned an operated taverns in Chicago for over 20 years at that point, but only recently had they begun serving food.

With the help of his mother, Mary, Vito created a new thin crust pizza by running the dough through a machine called a sheeter, normally used to make pasta a uniform thickness. By running the dough through the sheeter, the dough wouldn’t rise and was extra thin.

The dough was topped with marinara, cheese, and Italian sausage with fennel seed.

The pizza was served to customers as a snack to keep them drinking Old Styles at the bar. And it worked! Vito & Nick’s was a hit and the place is an institution on the South Side of Chicago.

What makes Tavern-style Pizza unique

The crust itself is very different from Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza. Most thin-crust pizzas (Neapolitan, New York-style) have an edge to the crust. This makes for a natural handle where you can grab a slice without getting sauce and cheese all over your fingers.

Tavern-style Pizza has no such handle. The sauce and cheese goes all the way to the edge of the dough. When the pizza is cooked in a hot oven, the cheese on the edges gets extra caramelized and crunchy. That makes the edge pieces worth fighting over!

Gotta wash down that pizza with an Old Style when in Chicago (image: bonappetit.com)

Then, there’s the cooking time in the oven. Taven-style Pizza cooks a little longer and the crust gets crispier than New York-style Pizza. So, you can hold a piece in one hand without having to fold it over. That’ll sure make it easier to hold your Old Style in the other hand!

Finally, there’s the cut of the pizza. Almost every other pizza is cut into triangles from the edge and meeting in the center. Tavern-style Pizza is the exception. Four vertical cuts and four horizonal cuts on a round pie makes for perfect little squares of pizza in the middle, but small odd-shaped pieces around the edge.

Inevitably, the four little triangle-shaped pieces are the most sought after as they are usually the crispiest.

Where to get Tavern-style Pizza in Chicago

There must be thousands of pizzerias and bars serving Tavern-style Pizza in Chicagoland. And, any Chicagoan will probably tell you that their neighborhood joint is the best. But, here’s a few of our favorites.

Vito & Nick’s

The original is still in business on the South Side and is the standard-bearer for Tavern-style. Website

Barnaby’s

Barnaby’s used to have locations all over the suburbs of Chicago. They’re down to just a handful, but their spin on Tavern-style with cornmeal crust is worth a try. Website

Pat’s Pizzeria

Been in business for over 70 years, one of the best in Chicago. Website

Marie’s Pizza and Liquors

Award winning Tavern-style Pizza with a liquor store next door. Fantastic time warp experience. Website

Flo & Santo’s

Pizza and Pierogis. What could be more Chicago than that? Website

Sano’s Pizzeria

Old-school Tavern-style Pizzeria. Website

Oggi Trattoria

West Loop haven for Tavern-style. Website

Bertolli’s

River Forest pizzeria. Website

Pizano’s

Does an excellent Deep-Dish along with their Tavern-style. Website

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