ST. LOUIS — A New York Times columnist and best-selling cookbook author spent five months learning how to properly make a Chicago thin-crust pizza. J. Kenji López-Alt’s article about the experience is causing a stir in St. Louis. Did Chicago steal the Gateway city’s signature style? Not quite, but he does argue that most Midwestern pizza is influenced by a staple of Chicago’s taverns.
The article is featured on the St. Louis sub-Reddit and generating some interesting comments:
- “I’m convinced the article is rage-bait for their lagging St. Louis demographic,” writes one Redditor.
- “People who don’t like provel really go out of their way to let random people know,” states another Reddit commenter.
- “St. Louis style is literally just Chicago Tavern Style with provel cheese,” argues another Reddit user.
Two types of Chicago-style pizza
Apparently there are at least two styles of Chicago pizza. The one everyone outside of Chicago knows, the deep dish, and the other one called tavern style.
“Deep dish was invented around 1943, while tavern-style has been around much longer. It features cracker-thin crust that’s usually square-cut and often loaded with fennel-heavy sausage,” writes Eater Chicago reporter Garrett Sweet.
The story goes that Chicago stockyard workers would stop by a bar occasionally on their way home. The pizza was cut into squares, so it could be served on napkins and was often free for drinkers. It became very popular.
“Eventually, the free pizza became so popular that taverns started selling it to-go. From Chicago, it spread, becoming one of the dominant pizza styles throughout the Midwest,” writes López-Alt.
Chicago Magazine writes that, “Similar horizontal cuts can also be found on Quad Cities–style pizza and the St. Louis provel cheese pizza.”
What’s the difference?
So, how does Chicago style thin crust differ from St. Louis style? Well, the STL “Square Beyond Compare” is unleavened. López-Alt’s recipe starts making the Chicago style thin crust pizza by making the dough with flour, sugar, salt, yeast, water and oil. Plus, there is the whole provel cheese thing.
It may be tempting to think that this New York Times food writer doesn’t know that thin crust pizza is from St. Louis. In 2019 López-Alt wrote an article for Serious Eats called, In Defense of St. Louis-Style Pizza. He has been here, sampled the squares, and admits that many people trash St. Louis pizza, but he really loves it.
“I’ve finally figured out why I love it so much. St. Louis-style pizza is not pizza. It’s a big, pizza-flavored nacho. Hear me out,” explains López-Alt. The article goes on to explore the city’s odd relationship with its pizza.
St. Louis pizza history
So, where did St. Louis style pizza come from? Well, it has a rather complicated history with many different roots. One of the first people to start selling it moved to town from Chicago in the 1930s. Amedeo Fiore’s pizzeria became a surprise hit and inspired many others. A Chicagoan also applied for a provel patent, but was denied.
Why is St. Louis style pizza cut into squares? Imo’s is now known for St. Louis style pizza, and they put provel on plenty of pies. The story goes that Ed Imo and his brothers worked as tile setters. During the day, they would set tiles. At night, Ed Imo would make and sell pizza. She said it was a natural progression for him to cut the pizza into squares.