Burt's Place, home of the caramelized-crust pan pizza created by the late Burt Katz, reopens Friday at 4:30 p.m., 605 days after the pizza master last locked his doors in Morton Grove.
Katz was perhaps best known locally for founding the original Pequod's around the corner. He earned worldwide fame late in life after a television appearance with Anthony Bourdain.
Katz closed his restaurant in 2015 after 26 years in business and passed away the next year, but his legacy lives on in the pizza — he picked and trained his successors — and in the ordering process: As always, you will need to call and place dine-in orders in advance, said new owners and pizza-makers Jerry Petrow and John Munao.
The restaurant had one oven, and Katz was the sole pizza-maker, so ordering ahead made service easier for him and his wife, Sharon, who ran the dining room. Petrow and Munao have added a second oven, so they may be able to relax the ordering policy — eventually, Petrow said. For now, "it's easier for us" to keep it going, he said.
The new partners, former futures traders and first-time restaurateurs, have made more than a hundred pizzas as they've prepared to open.
Katz's daughter, Andi Bannister, was one of their trial customers. "It was really good," she said during an early test. "They learned a lot from our dad and are doing an excellent job keeping his memory alive through his pizza and the restaurant."
Petrow and Munao are using the same ingredients, recipes, method and pans as Katz. "There were some rumors out that we weren't using the same pans," Munao said. "That is false."
We spoke while saws buzzed, finishing a small bar in a back corner of the dining room. All the restaurant's walls were stripped to the studs, but the seating for 45 in booths, tables and chairs remains, though cleaned and repaired.
Take a look inside the reopening of iconic Morton Grove pizzeria Burt’s Place.
From the outside, the building, originally an 1800s-era blacksmith shop, seems almost untouched, from the log-cabin facade and fluttering brown-and-white-striped awning down to the old stickers on the front door. But a new entrance, just to the right of the front windows, with a small ramp leading to the new hardwood dining room floor, was needed to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. One of two new bathrooms is also ADA-compliant.
Two signs hang, one reading "Star" and the other "Back," mementos of the pizzeria's first name, Starback. It was changed from Starbuck when a startup Seattle coffee company snagged that name days before Katz did.
Most of Katz's notable collection of radios was kept by family, but a few will be displayed, along with antique rotary phones, Marx Brothers figurines and a comically giant collectible whisk. His iconic International House of Pancakes plates have also survived.
A beer garden in the newly cleared side yard will open soon with seating for 50 and two outdoor television screens. Inside or outside, choose among six beers on tap and wine by the glass or bottle. Fountain drinks come by the glass ($1.75) or pitcher ($4), and Filbert's root beer, made in Chicago since 1926, is sold by the bottle ($2.50).
There will also be a television inside, with the sound turned off except during big sports games, Munao said. Longtime regulars may rebel, but I can't imagine a world where anything would keep them away from this pizza.
Burt's Place pizzas will range from small ($10.75, cheese) to extra large ($20.75, cheese and one topping). Extra toppings include all the house classics: sausage, pepperoni, mixed bell peppers and more. Pizzas will require 24-hour preorder but not prepayment, and credit cards will be accepted.
Burt's Place, 8541 Ferris Ave., Morton Grove, 847-965-7997, www.facebook.com/burtspizza
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