Thanks to high profile coverage, including a feature on Anthony Bourdain’s TV show “No Reservations,” and most recently, a cover story in the Dining section of the Chicago Tribune, there's a mystique about Burt Katz and his aptly named Morton Grove pizza restaurant, Burt’s Place.
For sure, Katz knows pizza. His resume is impressive; the guy's been making pizzas for decades at an array of well-known eateries. He was the owner and founder of Gulliver’s in Chicago (along with a partner) and Pequod’s in Morton Grove. In addition, he owned the former The Inferno in Evanston. Still, it’s Burt’s Place that has garnered all the attention.
The aura of mystery surrounding the 74-year-old pizza master and his pie intrigued me, and I skedaddled over there last week. The eatery is run a bit different than most other restaurants so I thought you might benefit from some more info before rushing over there. Here are some things you should know.
1. The pizza is the only reason to go to Burt’s Place. There’s nothing else on the menu except some appetizers, salads and drinks, including beer and wine. Sorry, Sugar Buzzers, there are no desserts.
2. The place has zero atmosphere. The tiny restaurant seats about 30 and is dark with wood-paneled walls. True, there is a smattering of antiques—old telephones and radios among them, but really, the place feels like somebody’s basement rec room crying out for remodeling.
3. Burt Katz's theme song should be “ I did it my way” as he plays by his own set of rules. For example, Burt doesn’t take credit cards so be sure to bring cash. But not a lot; the prices are pretty cheap.
And another thing—this is important here: Call up and order your pizza in advance. Otherwise, you probably won't get served. On the positive side, ordering in advance means you won’t be waiting 40 agonizing minutes while you’re waiting for your pizza to arrive.
If you can't get in at the time you want, they’ll offer you another time. Unless they’re totally booked, which is possible. But be forewarned: We tried calling for two days straight and kept getting a busy signal. Finally, after putting the phone on redial, we got through.
4. Burt is a character. He gives off a delicate genius vibe, not unlike Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. The headline of the Tribune story about Burt and his pizza was "Kinda Cranky Pizza Guy," and I can vouch the man is truly cranky. Or depressed. Or rude. Or shy. Or a combination of these attributes. When we walked in—early, at 4:30, the white-bearded Burt was sitting in a booth and barely acknowledged our presence. However, Jeff Sanders, who waited on us (and seemed to be the only other employee there), was quite friendly and helpful.
5. There is no website for Burt's Place. The phone number is: 847-965-7997. You can find the menu on urbanspoon.com although the prices have gone up just a bit.
And the pizza? Burt’s signature is his “caramelized” crust, accomplished by putting cheese, which becomes charred in the baking process, around the edge of the pizza dough. But while some call it caramelized, I call it burnt. Yes, it's burnt cheese on the edge of the crust. I mean, it’s black. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up on a diet of burnt lamb chops and burnt hamburgers and I like most of my food charred. But caramelized? I don't think so. I’ll leave that word to others, including Anthony Bourdain.
Which reminds me: On Bourdain's TV show "No Reservations," they made a big deal about the "top-notch quality, fresh" vegetables that Burt puts on his pizzas. That may be true, but the spinach on our pizza was burnt too (Check out the photo and see for yourself.) , which I definitely could have lived without.
The sauce was pleasantly sweet. The crust tasted a little white-bready, resulting in a first slice with a nice crisp texture, but a second slice--not so much. One more thing, it's been awhile since I've been to Pequod's and from what I remember, Burt's pizza tastes very similar. Pequod’s, which Burt sold a long time ago, is located just a couple of blocks from Burt’s Place. (So if you don't listen to me and drive over to Burt's Place without calling ahead and can't get in, you can try Pequod's.)
The pizza was very good. And I’ll admit, I’m getting a hankering for a slice of it as I sit in front of my keyboard (I do have some leftovers in the freezer.). But to quote my nephew, Max, “I never met a pizza I didn’t like,” and this one was no exception.