Saturday, May 30, 2020

Paying Homage to Restaurateur Burt Katz; The Inferno, Gullivers, Pequod's and Burt's Place. He is the "Father of the Caramelized Pan Pizza Crust."

There are many Chicagoland pizza joints that make their pizza pies with tomato sauce either on the bottom of the dough or on the top of their Deep-Dish or Pan pizzas. How the restaurant layers the topping makes no difference and is usually proprietary to the restaurant or chain. It's up to the Pizzaiolo (Italian: pizza maker) to be consistent.

Pan Pizza is made with a thick dough pasted all around the bottom and wall of a well-seasoned pan.

Deep-Dish Pizza is made with a thin to medium dough pasted all around the bottom and wall of a well-seasoned pan.

If you like more bread, look for a Pan Pizza Restaurant. Envision the Deep-Dish pizza as a 'pizza pie.' Call the restaurant and ask which pizza style they serve.

Bert Katz (1937-2016) was born in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Burt attended Roosevelt High School in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and studied history at Roosevelt University. Bert spent 25 years, on and off, as a pit-trader at the Chicago Board of Trade.

On December 6, 1962, Burt and Sharon started a year-long, around-the-world honeymoon road trip in Japan. They bought a rare Toyopet Stout truck, an original Toyota, then drove through several countries, including Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Photographs show the then 24 and 25-year-olds with their truck, on which they stenciled their many stops. In Lisbon, they shipped the truck to Chicago but never drove it again. Katz donated it to a friend's auto museum, which closed and sold it for scrap. When the salvage yard owner saw the stenciled country names, he could not bear to crush the truck, so again it sold.
In 1963 Katz became an owner-partner in the pizza restaurant called The Inferno on Central Street in Evanston, a north suburb of Chicago. Katz introduced a new kind of pizza to the Chicago area consumers for the first time, a caramelized crust. The Inferno was the first place he would eventually fully own, but it would be far from the last.

He sold his share in 1965 and opened up Gullivers, a pan-pizza Restaurant, with partner Jerry Freeman. Katz named it as a tribute to "Gulliver's Travels." His original Gullivers Restaurant only had one dining room and was flanked by a pottery shop and a delicatessen in the same building. It was located at 2727 West Howard Street in Chicago's West Ridge community. Freeman developed a passion for antiques and filled the restaurant with stained glass lamps, statues, and other items. The two soon split up. Katz would sell Gullivers and enter the business world, and he would not emerge into the pizza industry again until 1970.

Gullivers closed after 56 years in January 2022.
In 1970 Burt Katz decided he didn't enjoy the futures trading business any longer. After a confrontation with his boss, he quit his job, and he still needed a job to support his wife Sharon and three children. 

So, turning back to the pizza industry and the unique caramelized pizza he had created years before, he opened the original Pequod's Pizzeria at 8520 Fernald Avenue in Morton Grove in 1971 (their menu and website incorrectly say 1970), a north-west suburb of Chicago. He named it Pequod's after the whaling ship in "Moby Dick." The original restaurant is located at 8520 Fernald Avenue, in a converted house. Its original logo was just a whale, although it has since been modified to be a whale wearing a thong on his head.

Katz sold Pequod's in 1986 to Keith Jackson, who still owns the restaurant. Katz simply says he got 'burned out' at Pequods, but of course, he couldn't stop.

Constantly changing his pan pizza (said 'PAN PIZZA' on every restaurant menu) recipe from place to place, Katz finally opened up Burt's Place in suburb Morton Grove, which he operated with his wife, Sharon. The pizza at each establishment where Burt had left his caramelized recipe was different at each place. 

I was first introduced to Pequod's in Morton Grove by a friend who took me there in 1975. It is just off Lincoln Avenue at the alley at 8520 Fernald Avenue. Burt was always in the kitchen but would step out into the dining room to see if he knew anyone!

Burt, a radio collector, filled the interior with beautiful vintage console radios, table-top radios, microphones, ham radios, and the QSL postcards of people's ham radio call letters stapled to the ceiling beams. There was a backroom filled with Burt's most precious items of his collection. Not many people were invited by Bert to see his radio collection.
Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1980.
"Antiques by Anita Gold" column.
One of those QSL cards was from a friend of mine. His call letters were: WB9VLV
QSL Card from the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair.
Burt added cheese between the edge crust and the hot pan when placing the pie back into the oven after turning it 180° to finish baking. This is what gives the edge of the crust its burnt look and delicious taste. 
Bert took the aged pizza pans from Gullivers when he sold it in 1965, so by the time he opened Burt's Place in 1989, the seasoned pans were almost 25 years old.
Bert's Well Seasoned Pizza Pans.
Pequod's pan pizza is to die for. I personally rank it higher than Giordano's, The Original Gino's, Gino's East, Lou Malnati's, Uno's, and, yes, even Burt's Place.

A Personal Story
Pequod's is a great informal, cozy date-place and the greatest pan pizza anywhere. I took a girlfriend there, her first time, in 1976, and she absolutely loved their pizza. We went back shortly after that. We were seated at the 2-topper table at the front window. While waiting for our salad and pizza order, I commented how cool it would be to live across the street in one of those houses. You could call in your order, go across the street to pick up your order, and bring home a scorching hot pizza. 
Well.. just as I finished my statement, the front door of the house directly across the street opened, and a man crossed the street and came into Pequod's, picked up his order, and went home with it. We nearly got kicked out of the restaurant because we were laughing so hard tears were rolling down our cheeks. Truth be told, we were a little loud too. The waitress came to our table, and I managed to tell her why we couldn't stop laughing. She chuckled and explained that it happens a lot from the neighborhood residences.

If you've ever been to the Morton Grove Pequod's, before Katz sold it in 1986, and used the tiny, and I mean TINY, restrooms that, at least the men's room, had the walls painted black, and bathroom humor phrases and words were painted in different colors on the walls, and not from customers or taggers. The restroom doors were slatted both the upper and lower half of the door and angled down so you couldn't see inside. Sometimes you could hear someone expelling gas, making grunting noises, or hear tinkling sounds. Creepy... but as soon as someone started to laugh... nobody could stop.

When the two-way swinging kitchen doors opened, viewable from only one or two tables in the back, you could see {new} women's undies, bras, and panties hanging from the ceiling. No lie! 

In 1989 Burt and Sharon Katz opened the restaurant "Starback" at 8541 Ferris Avenue in Morton Grove, which was renamed "Burt's Place, because of a trademark conflict with Starbucks.
NOTE: The sign in the right window says, "Morton Grove's 1st and Finest pan Pizza Since 1971." Burt's pizzas were 'pan pizzas." See videos of Burt making his famous pan pizza below. April 1994
Charles Peschke and son George at his Blacksmith Shop at 8541 Ferris in Morton Grove, Illinois, in the late 1800s. The early blacksmith provided essential services to local farmers and industry by crafting specialized tools and repairing anything made of metal, and Horseshoeing was only one part of his work. Charles Peschke also served as one of Morton Grove's first police marshals and helped organize Morton Grove Volunteer Fire Department. The houses in the background are on Callie Avenue.
Burt's Place building was built in 1912. There is an apartment on the 2nd floor.
Burt was the sole operator in the kitchen, while Sharon was the only waitress, phone-order taker, and front-end manager." Burt believed if you want something done right, do it yourself, and he did.

A photograph of a slice of pizza from Burt's Place was featured on the cover of the October 2007 issue of the magazine Saveur with an accompanying article. A huge reprint of the cover was displayed on the wall next to the kitchen entrance.
He achieved worldwide fame after being featured on a Chicago-themed episode of Anthony Bourdain's television documentary series "No Reservations" in 2009.
Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations"
on the Travel Channel.

In 2012, based upon a survey involving 85,000 votes, the magazine Men's Health editors selected Burt's Place as the USA's Best Pizza Parlor.

Due to Burt's health problems, he closed Burt's Place in 2015.
Meet The Pan Pizza Superhero
Burt's Place, Chicago's Best Viewer's Choice

Burton D. Katz died on April 30, 2016. His wife Sharon survived Burt, their three children, and six grandchildren; he was predeceased by one grandchild. Burt Katz is buried at Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.
May Burt Katz's memory bring joy to all who knew him and think of him with every bite of pizza you take.
Remembering Burt Katz: The Pizza Show

In 2017 Burt's Place was reopened by Jerry Petrow and John Munao, former futures traders and first-time restaurateurs, who were selected and trained by Burt Katz when he knew he was dying of cancer. Petrow said he wrote down everything Bert told him from memory.

Petrow and Munao used the same fresh ingredients (shopped for every day), recipes, methods, and the pizza pans that Katz left them. "There were some rumors out that we weren't using the same pans," Munao said. "That is false."
Burt's Place New Interior.
The entrance had a small ramp installed because it was necessary to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, as are the two newly designed restrooms, to become ADA compliant.

John Munao ventured out on his own, taking Burt Katz's caramelized pizza crust secret, and opened Lefty's Pizza Kitchen in Wilmette in 2018. The pizzas are a New York style with the crust being double thin in thickness or, as Chicagoans call it, Eastern Style.

Keith Jackson bought Pequod's in Morton Grove in 1986 from Katz for about $300,000 (per the Cook County Assessor's Office). Jackson said the sale price was for the business and the building.

Jackson would buy the building in Chicago's Lincoln Park in 1991 to open the second Pequod's Pizza at 2207 North Clybourn Avenue
When asked if there was any bad blood between himself and Burt Katz, Jackson, a radiant 60-year-old with blue eyes and a peace and love mentality, merely said, "let bygones be bygones." Jackson did add, however, that it was "disappointing that he opened up Burt's Place right up the street from our Morton Grove location." Jackson understands that it's a competitive business, and despite this, his business does very well, especially in the booming Lincoln Park community.


Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. My first real tech job was in Niles, just south of Pequod's. We'd go there to celebrate birthdays, and the other techs and I would spend considerable time ogling the antique radios while waiting for our pizza.

  2. Any time I'm back in Chicago I go either Burt's or Pequod's. I've been going to Pequod's since Burt opened it and no story about it is complete without mentioning the waiter Jeff that was there in the early years.

    And yes, this is the best pizza in the country.

    1. You are absolutely 100% correct about Jeff S. and he actually worked EXTENSIVELY with Burt's new owners during the transition, and ultimately, sadly, received no remuneration or credit for this effort.

  3. This biography is very interesting, and what a life full of varied experiences!


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