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St. Louis-Style vs. Chicago Tavern-Style Pizza

Recently, Nobel Prize winner Didier Queloz put our planet on high alert. He’s convinced aliens are out there and, in the next few decades, he says we’re likely to find them.

If you ever invite your new intergalactic friends over for lunch, you’ll have some explaining to do. 

“What is this pizza we’ve heard so much about?,” they’ll ask you.

That’s an easy one.

“Why are you Earthlings so obsessed with it?,” they’ll wonder aloud.

Cake.

“Sounds delicious,” they’ll exclaim. “How can I order pizza on my space phone?”

Got you covered, fam.

“Outstanding,” they’ll say, bleeping and blorping with enthusiasm. “So, what’s the difference between St. Louis-Style pizza and the Tavern-style pizza from Chicago?”

Uh oh. 

If only they could have lobbed us a softball – maybe something about Grandma-style versus Sicilian pizza.

Turns out, intelligent lifeforms are a highly curious bunch. These martians are asking tough questions, but this is, at least, the preferred type of probing.

St. Louis-style and Tavern-style, in many respects, are two pizzas in a pod. They’re crispy, delicious, and sport a “party cut” that results in right angles and good times for all.  

But, we assure you, and the rest of the universe, they are not one and the same.

Whether you’re fielding questions from extraterrestrials or, you know, sampling the finest regional styles of pizza the Midwest has to offer, we want you to be prepared.

Know every square inch of St. Louis-style pizza and Tavern-style pizza with our Styles Spotlight:

The Crust

Both crusts are thin and crispy. Not just thin like a New York-style pizza or crispy like a New Jersey-style bar pie – way slimmer and crunchier. As in, pizza meets nachos. There is, however, a key difference in the preparation of the dough – Chicago’s thin-crust base typically includes yeast whereas St. Louis’ does not.

By rolling the dough, rather than tossing it, chefs of each style are able to create a foundation that is capable of supporting a whole lot of deliciousness up top, including generous portions of fennel-forward sausage.  

The Cut

Instead of the usual circular sectors that you’d find on most round pies, St. Louis-style and Tavern-style pizzas are dissected by latitude and longitude. This creates what’s known as a “tavern-cut” or “tile-cut,” depending on which part of America’s heartland you’re in. 

The slices, for the most part, wind up as squares, though they’re not all the same size, because the slicing of these pies is more of an improvisational art than a geometric science. 

In St. Louis, it’s said that Ed Imo, founder of the famed Imo’s Pizza chain, was a tile-layer before he switched his focus to food. 

In Chicago, legend has it that Nick Barraco – one half of local institution “Vito’s and Nick’s” – started the square trend in 1946, to make the slices easier to eat while drinking beer. 

The Cheese

St. Louis-style pizza is topped with Provel, a processed blend of multiple cheeses that can be best described as a mashup of provolone, Swiss, and cheddar. Thanks to emulsifiers, extra fat, and carefully-controlled moisture levels, it melts and melds gloriously with an STL pie. 

Tavern-style pizza, meanwhile, usually draws from a more traditional cheese blend anchored by low-moisture mozzarella. It’s also very melty, but in a way that’s more familiar for most.

Fun fact: Provel’s etymology does not stem from “provolone” or “mozzarella” – at least, according to J.S. Hoffman, who filed the original trademark application for Provel in 1947:

“Provel is an arbitrarily coined word in the English language,” the filing says. “[Applicant’s] mark is a fanciful aggregation of letters without meaning.”

The application went on to argue that Provel is not actually a cheese and, therefore, its name does not infringe on any other type of cheese. Or, as comedian and St. Louis-style pizza enthusiast Judah Friedlander put it in 2013:

“It’s not even legally cheese,” the longtime “30 Rock” star told NPR. “It’s melted plastic from the ’80s.”  

The origins of Provel have been in dispute for decades, but it’s meltability is undeniable. Tavern-style pizza’s ample mozzarella is also marvelously melty, just with the looooooong cheesy fibers we all know and love.

Fortunately, you don’t have to tie yourself down to just one style of pie: Enjoy both – no strings attached.

The Sauce

Oregano is a staple of most American pies, but St. Louis’ pizza takes it to a whole ‘nother level. The sauce here is positively packed with aromatic dried oregano, making the herb more of a Nelly than a Murphy Lee in the spice blend. It’s bold, for sure, but it’s properly balanced thanks to a bit of sugar.

The sauce for tavern-style pies, such as the one served by Emmett Burke in New York, typically leans on the natural sweetness and flavors of crushed tomatoes. The Chicago native punches his up with the usual suspects – salt, garlic, basil, and a bit of black pepper – and a more standard quantity of oregano.

St. Louis-style vs. Tavern-style pizza: It’s a party, either way

While St. Louis-style pizza and Tavern-style pizza are most commonly found around STL and CHI, respectively, they’re becoming more and more popular around the country thanks to independent shops from talented transplants.

Order one – or both – today for a meal that’s out of this world.

2 thoughts on “St. Louis-Style vs. Chicago Tavern-Style Pizza

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  1. Thank you for this article. I just learned of your app a few weeks ago (love it) and today I learned of both Provel cheese and St Louis style pizza.

    Problem is- now I need to find a place near me that has a St Louis pie. I am in NJ 7882.

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