For Middle Brow Brewery’s Pete Ternes, there’s a little bit of magic in recreating food that he cherished growing up in the city’s South Suburbs. That’s what he and his staff have been quietly doing at his Logan Square brewpub where Tavern Tuesdays have taken off.
Since opening in 2019, Ternes’ brewpub, called Bungalow by Middle Brow, has served Neapolitan pizzas that bring a touch of tang from a sourdough starter and a West Coast mentality to Chicago’s pizza scene. There’s a farm-to-table ethos rarely seen at the city’s many beloved pizzerias seen in local pork and Wisconsin cheese. The pizzas are baked at 700 degrees using artisan flour from Meadowlark Organics in Wisconsin.
Middle Brow continues to receive positive reactions from the Neapolitan, but Ternes longed to recreate the thin-crust pies from Papa Pizza, a restaurant that closed in 2012 after 40 years in Oak Forest. One characteristic of Papa’s pizza, along with South Side spots like Palermo’s and Aurelio’s, is a sweeter sauce. Ternes has managed to replicate that — customers will find classic cheese and sausage available. But he’s also added something new in terms of techniques. For example, a recent special came topped with pork sausage, kale, and a maple drizzle spiked with espresso. Staff cuts the pizza into tiny squares and triangles, which is the way Papa Pizza served its pies: “You could eat 20 pieces before you realize you’re full,” Ternes says.
The results have been spectacular, giving Chicago one of the tastiest and most unique renditions of the city’s signature thin-crust pies.
Middle Brow takes the same flour from the Neapolitan pies and lets it ferment for two days before shaping it into balls and then letting it ferment for another three days before the dough gets rolled out. Often, pizzamakers roll out the dough after the initial permanent to allow for more curing. But Ternes feels his dough is dry enough, but admittedly, he says Middle Brow’s tavern pizza is a little bit more pliable than others. But it’s still plenty crispy. Because of limited oven space, the restaurant can only offer the pizzas once a week (tavern pies are baked at 600 degrees; the 100-degree difference is vast). That’s how Tavern Tuesday began.
While Ternes doesn’t want to overcomplicate things, he does relish the opportunity to focus on the crust, taking the same interest in grains as he does as a beermaker.
“We’re celebrating the sough on our crusts just as much we historically celebrate the sauce and cheese in this city,” Ternes says.
Tavern-style pizza has become a great marketing term for the Chicago thin crusts that locals have enjoyed for generations. Ternes says he only heard of the term four years ago. Tuesdays have been packed at the brewpub, with pizzas selling out by 7 p.m. The pizzas aren’t available for carryout. But if Middle Brow offers them to-go, Ternes assures customers they will be packed in the traditional Chicago pizza bag.