Chicago style tavern needs improvement

Hello all -

(Please forgive the length of this post, I wanted to give everyone as much information I could). I have been a member on for a long time and while more of a lurker, have spent many years using the resources on that forum to make wonderful pizza at home. Thank you all for your contributions there.

I am the a GM of a pub in Montana, and when I took the place over 3 years ago it was a full on “bar rescue”. Among a long list of other issues, the pizza offerings there were frozen dough discs cooked in convection ovens. As a pizza enthusiast, I wanted to improve the quality substantially, as what was coming out of the kitchen was really sad. Tom Lehmann, and others, helped me on a couple years ago get the best possible product out of what the equipment we had. We’ve been able to grow our pizza sales over 400% in the last couple years, and I was able to convince the owner to get a used Bakers Pride Y600 last year.

We have a deck oven and a 30 qt planetary mixer. We have dough boxes and walk in storage space. We have the tools to make wonderful pizza and what we’re currently doing is…ok. Our customers love our pizza and we’ve continued to consistently increase pizza sales YTD every week. But I grew up in the burbs of Chicago and it is a far cry from the wonderful mom and pop shops I grew up with that sold that Chicago tavern style, tomato paste like sauce on square cut thin crust pizza. The outer crust is good - it’s the underside of the pizza and the flavor that we’re having issues with. The underside doesn’t get crispy - it has more of a leather type consistency - like the dough has been overworked or something. It’s gets cooked, and it takes on color, but it’s lifeless, limp and floppy. As for the flavor…there really isn’t any. It’s disappointingly flavorless. Our pizza is definitely being carried completely by the sauce, grande cheese, and high quality toppings along with the fact that we’re in Montana and there isn’t a cultural standard for pizza as fierce as there would be in other parts of the country. This sells well because “pizza is pizza” right? All of you guys would be disappointed with this pie, and I am, too. And I really don’t want that. I have a lot of bar and restaurant experience, but this is the first operation I’ve been working that has pizza. I want to make it the best and would be extremely grateful for your help.

I will detail our recipe and process:

100% AP Flour
50% Water, 70 degrees
.5% IDY
1% salt
1% sugar
8% corn oil

Add flour, salt, sugar and IDY to mixing bowl (this part might be the first red flag - should the yeast bloom in water by itself first?). Add water. Mix on low for 2 min with dough hook. Add oil, continue on low for 2 minutes. Increase to medium speed and mix for 10 min.

Remove dough, transfer to bench, form into dough balls weighing 391.88 grams (16" pizzas). Brush will small amount of olive oil, place into plastic bag, loosely twist, place in dough box with bag tail underneath ball, immediately transfer to fridge. Dough will be ready in 48 hours.

During service we take these dough balls and sit them on a counter at “room temp” for an hour before service, still in their bags, and then we pull as necessary to make sure they are manageable on the pizza prep table. We roll the pizza dough out using a pin to 16" diameter.

Pizzas are rolled out and transferred to a peel to build, all with the aid of semolina flour on the bench and peel. Sauce is applied, toppings, then Grande cheese, and the pizza is cooked in a Bakers Pride Y600 at 475 for 6 min, turned 180 degrees and slid to a fresh spot on the deck if available, and cooked for another 6 min.

Pizzas are taken directly from the oven to the serving pan and cut into squares. There is no resting time.

I’ve attached the most clinical photo I have of our pizza right now, and if you think it would help, I can get more of the underside. As you can see from the pic, our pizzas look pretty good. The sauce, cheese and toppings are pretty dynamite. We’re close, but with such a huge piece of the puzzle being sub par, we have a long ways to go.

Thanks in advance for any help


If you say that your dough does not have much taste to it, have you tried increasing your salt and sugar? We use 2% sugar and 1.75% salt.
With IDY (what we use) you should not need to let it bloom in water. ADY you would, but not IDY. We are at 0.75% IDY.
Hopefully someone else will chime in!

Thanks for the reply!

I haven’t tried anything yet - if I had to guess, it seems like the problem may be in the handling of the dough just because the texture of the cooked product is off, too. And during it’s 48 hours in the fridge, it doesn’t really rise much. I feel like we’re doing something to inhibit the development of flavor like transferring it to the fridge too quick. But increasing the yeast, sugar and salt seems like it would obviously contribute to better flavor, and small changes might be worth trying at first. I’ll up it this week to your suggested percentages in a small tester batch and see what that does. Thanks for the suggestion!!

Hi Dave!
Did you ever get your dough worked out the way you were hoping it to be? What brand of flour do you use btw? If you haven’t Dave I would suggest using a poolish starter to help get u a better flavor in your crust. It’s super easy to do and gives my doughs a much better flavor. Also check your water that your using for the dough that can be an issue for a lot of pizza makers.