A picture of a bar style pizza

Midwest/Bar Style Pizza – Characteristics, History, and General Preparation

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What is midwest style pizza, what are its defining characteristics and historical background, what can you expect when eating it, and how is it generally prepared? This post will provide you with all the details about midwest style pizza

General Background and Characteristics

Midwest style pizza is a popular pizza style found throughout the Midwest region of the US, and it encompasses several sub-styles that share similar characteristics. Although I have grouped them under one “main” style, it’s important to note that there may be slight variations between pizzas sold in different areas of the Midwest – some are baked in a pan, while others are not;. Some are cut into squares, known as “Party cut,” while others are cut into traditional slices;. However, the defining feature of Midwest-style pizza is its very thin, cracker-style crust.

In general, Midwest-style pizza is round and has a thin, flat crust. The sauce tends to be thick and slightly sweet, made from crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, or a combination of both. The toppings vary depending on the region and the specific type of pizza. Some well-known sub-styles of Midwest -style pizza include tavern/bar style pizza, Chicago thin crust, and St. Louis style pizza.

The Chicago thin crust and bar/tavern style pizza are very similar, often differing only in name. They are the most common style of pizza in the Midwest, especially in Chicago. Contrary to popular belief, Chicago residents actually prefer and frequently eat this type of pizza as their go-to option, rather than deep dish pizza, which is considered more of a special occasion or tourist pizza.

The dough for the bar/tavern/Chicago thin crust pizza is rolled out to a very thin thickness using a rolling pin or dough sheeter, and it is typically baked in a round pan or pizza screen/disk. The pizza itself is crispy, resembling a cracker, and is usually cut into squares. The toppings usually cover nearly the entire pizza.

Midwest style pizza can be found in almost every pizzeria in Chicago, as well as in bars throughout the Midwest region and beyond.

Roots and History of Midwest Style Pizza

Unsurprisingly, like most other American pizzas we’ve discussed, the origin of Midwest style pizza is not entirely clear. The existence of a general style of pizza that spreads across a wide area does not provide much clarity either. To simplify, let’s focus on Chicago, widely regarded as the “pizza capital” of the Midwest (and it goes without saying that each region in the Midwest will have its own variation).

The first official record of a pizzeria in Chicago dates back to 1924 (although there were allegedly undocumented pizzerias as early as 1908). The pizzeria, called Granato’s, was opened by Tom Granato, an Italian immigrant. Granato’s pizza was baked in a stone oven and closely resembled a New York-Neapolitan style pizza; Therefore, while it was the first pizzeria in Chicago, it is not the origin of the Chicago thin pizza that is now known as a Midwest-style pizza.

So, what IS the origin of Chicago’s thin crust pizza? In the years after the Prohibition era (1920-1933), pizza started becoming popular on the East Coast. At the same time, bars and taverns were appearing all across the US, like mushrooms after a rainstorm; This led to pizza becoming a common dish served in bars and taverns as a light meal or snack, often enjoyed with alcohol. Shortly after, pizza found its way to Chicago and the Midwest, especially between 1940 and 1945, as Italian immigrants started opening bars and taverns in Chicago.

The years 1946-1947 were likely the most significant period for the Chicago thin crust pizza. It was during this time that two taverns, Vito & Nick’s and Home Run Inn (which are still running today), purportedly began selling pizzas for the very first time. Soon after, many other taverns and restaurants quickly jumped on the trend, selling pizzas sliced into squares that were enjoyed as a snack alongside alcoholic beverages.

Now, you might be thinking, “If both New York pizza and Chicago thin crust were originally created by Italian immigrants, why are they so different?”

The answer lies in the fact that Italian immigrants who settled in New York primarily came from the Campania region, or were influenced by the baking culture of Campania, which includes Naples; On the other hand, Italian immigrants who made their way to Chicago and the Midwest came from various regions of Italy and had a different baking tradition. As a result, the pizza in Chicago is more reminiscent of the Tonda Romana rather than the Neapolitan style. This distinction is yet another remarkable reflection of the diversity and culinary richness that each culture and tradition brings, particularly when it comes to Italy.

Eating Characteristics of Midwest Style Pizza

The crust will be crispy, thin, and cracker-like, while the tomato sauce will be thick and rich, with sweet notes and a prominent overall flavor. The toppings will be relatively generous, especially on the Chicago thin-crust, and there will be a large amount of cheese, typically shredded whole milk low moisture mozzarella.

Typically, the pizza will be cut into squares, which, along with the thin crust, creates a light and enjoyable eating experience. This makes it perfect for serving as a snack or as a first course.

Preparation of Midwest Style Pizza

Generally, the dough is prepared with a hydration level of 45-55% and contains 2-10% fat. It is important to note that the addition of fat serves to enhance the texture and facilitate the rolling process, but it does not affect the crispiness of the dough.

Before baking, the dough should be rolled out using a rolling pin and then placed on a pizza pan or screen. Baking should be carried out at a temperature of approximately 280C/530F for around 10 minutes.

As for the sauce, it is typically made from tomato paste, which contributes to its subtly sweet flavor. Alternatively, a combination of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste may be used.

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