I tried Pizza Hut’s Chicago tavern-style pizza and it's exactly what you’d expect

Tavern-style enthusiasts may be disappointed with the chain’s latest offering.

Isaiah Reynolds
Written by
Isaiah Reynolds
Assistant Editor
Pizza Hut's tavern-style pizza
Photograph: Isaiah Reynolds for Time Out

One of America’s largest pizza chains has just added a new item to its permanent menu that's sure to be controversial with locals—Chicago tavern-style pizza.

Pizza Hut, also known as “The Hut,” has rolled out a new tavern-style thin crust alongside four new topping variations: pesto margherita, ultimate tavern, spicy chicken sausage and double pepperoni. Diners will also be able to create their own combinations with eight new permanent ingredients: spicy marinara sauce, pesto sauce swirl, chicken sausage, fresh diced garlic, grape tomatoes, caramelized onions, fire roasted peppers and crispy cupped pepperoni.

As a Chicagoan, I understand my birthright to classic, tavern-style pizza and decided to try it myself.

What’s the deal with tavern-style pizza?

While the city may have built its global reputation around the hearty behemoth that is deep dish pizza, the tradition of thin crust, tavern-style pies is generally more preferred by Chicagoans.

Unlike our neighbors on the East Coast, pizza as a culinary staple did not catch on in Chicago until the post-Prohibition 1940s. Essentially, local taverns used pizza as the perfect accompaniment to alcohol—not needing plates, the pizza was cut into small squares to fit neatly on a paper napkin and enticed patrons to stay (and drink) longer.

Chicagoans also adopted hand-rolling out pizza dough unlike the traditionalists of New York, who preferred theirs tossed, according to Chicago Magazine. Machine sheeters eventually proved to be more efficient than hand-rolling and produced a thinner pizza dough.

Since then, tavern-style, which is much slimmer, lighter and crisper than its counterparts, has been a beloved favorite of Chicago’s culinary cuisine.

How does Pizza Hut's tavern-style pizza taste?

I placed my order on a Saturday night for a large tavern-style pizza with classic marinara sauce, cheese, pepperoni and pineapple. I kept my expectations in check but still held out hope that somehow, someway the national pizza chain had struck gold in replicating the intricacies of Chicago tavern-style pizza. 

At first glance, the pie was overwhelmingly dry with a questionable amount of sprinkled oregano. Any remnants of cheese that would usually hold each slice together had dried up, leaving multiple pieces to slide across the cardboard box. Personally, I'm accustomed to the glimmering pools of oil gathering in each pepperoni slice, shimmering as the pizza box is opened until one gets a napkin to sop up the excess. I understand that might not be everyone's preference, so I pushed my bias aside and still held onto whatever optimism was left as I embarked on the first bite.

The star of the show should be the actual pizza crust when it comes to tavern-style. Purists are looking for an audible crunch and layer of dough able to withstand an abundance of toppings without getting too soggy.

What I was met with was a hardened, arguably stale flatbread pizza crust with more chew than crunch. It was reminiscent of an unleavened bread collapsing against the weight of the few toppings it was expected to withstand.

Determined to give this taste test a fair shot, I even threw a slice into the microwave for about 20 seconds to make it perhaps a bit more edible. Unfortunately, this made the dough even more chewy, with only a slight improvement to the cheese flavor. 

Upon first bite, a taste-testing friend immediately shrieked and retched. Dramatics aside, the drab flavors combined with the generally unpleasant dough texture made for a disappointing pizza experience.

The hope I once had for my first positive Pizza Hut experience has faded. To the curious Chicagoans, fight the urge of exploration and stick to the best pizzerias in town. And to the inquisitive out-of-towners, let not this interesting endeavor from “The Hut” deceive you of the greatness that is true Chicago tavern-style pizza. 

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