As a proudly Chicago-based publication, The Takeout has a soft spot for (or, more accurately, an obsession with) weighing in on the latest pizza discourse. Midwestern pizza takes many forms, and we intend to celebrate all of them. Last week, the pizza conversation was jump-started once again by Edward McClelland in an article for Chicago magazine titled “Tavern Style Isn’t Just Chicago’s Signature Pizza, but Its Signature Food.” We wholeheartedly agree.
Like any respectable defense of Chicago pizza, McClelland first establishes for the readers what residents of this city already know to be true: Deep dish is not the go-to pizza of Chicago locals. We’re known by tourists for our deep dish, in all its casserole-esque glory, but our day-to-day order is tavern-style thin-crust, sliced into small squares rather than classic triangles (although, okay, the four corner pieces do end up taking a triangle shape due to forces of geometry I cannot comprehend outside of a pizza context). A brief history of the when and why is given: The tiny squares of pizza, treated like finger foods, were a way for 1940s tavern owners to drive business: the salty slices enticed drink purchases and the snack kept butts in the seats rather than wandering off to find sustenance.
What McClelland posits next is that tavern-style pizza is the food that defines Chicago utterly, even more than our equally canonical Italian beef sandwiches. We’re already in agreement on this point, but his reasoning was something we hadn’t considered before. “Italian beef, hot dogs, and Polish sausage are legacies of the city’s slaughterhouse past,” McClelland writes. “Thin-crust pizza is adaptable to a future in which meat is more expensive and less popular.” Unlike heavier, breadier pizza slices in alternative styles, Chicago’s thin crust doesn’t rely on the presence of salty meat to make or break the experience. (There’s already plenty of salty cheese to do the heavy lifting there.)
There is, however, one point in McClelland’s article that we must take issue with.
“It has only one flaw: when a round pizza is cut into tavern slices, you end up with those little corner triangles that are nothing but crust,” he writes. Raise your hand if you love those little triangles—often with one tidy sausage nestled at the tip of the slice!—and you try to swipe all of them before anyone else in your family has a chance to.