Burt's Place in Morton Grove
Alright, we finally made it out there and it was quite an experience. First, when walking in, you see a not so decorative restaurant. We were greeted by a lady who asked us right away if we pre-ordered. We didn't as this was a new place to us. When we said no, she kinda gave us an attitude and walked away while checking her order book. We were then seated a few minutes later at one of the 11 or so tables in which 3 were taken. We ordered our pizza and pop for the 4 of us. The pop arrived in a disgusting (dirty) pitcher. We started to look around and noticed how filthy the place was. The kids (young) even made fun of the "dust" and "torn curtain". While waiting, we noticed another couple come in without the pre-order, was seated, and left 2 minutes later. Not sure what the deal was there. Then a group of 6 came in without the preorder as well and stood at the door 10 minutes or so. The waitress said she can split the group up since it would take time to put a table together. Again, there were 9 open tables. Then the best part of all. The owner, Burt, came out from the back and asked the waitress loudly why we were sitting where we were since they were expecting a larger party later on and said we would need to move. That was our breaking point. We ended up waiting another 2 minutes or so and took the order to go. By the way, the group of 6 that were still not seated walked out with us.
Overall, pizza was very good but WOULD NEVER, EVER stay to eat there. Only take-outs for us. Really don't understand how Burt's Place stays in business based on the restaurant itself. Pizza good, but that is all.
If you plan on going, make sure you pre-order or you may experience what we did today.
Pizza was good, but nothing to get excited about. I'm just saying that if the dining room area and pitcher were disgusting, I'd be afraid to see the kitchen and stating our experience for others. Just very odd that within the 20 min or so we were there that 2 groups had issues getting a table when the place was empty.
In all honesty, I think perhaps it might help to understand what Burt's Place is all about, and why it's that way. Heck, why some people swear by it. Burt was the original founder of Pequod's, a couple of blocks away in Morton Grove (with a second location in the city), and years before that (1965, to be exact), of Gulliver's, which is still on Howard Street. It's clear that he runs Burt's Place because he wants to do things "his way", and isn't doing it for any other reason. So leaving aside the sanitary/health question (I haven't observed problems in that regard, FWIW), the decor is funky/kitschy with a lot of old stuff like ham radios and such on the walls and shelves (Pequod's is similar). When I've been there, the only waitress has been Sharon, Burt's wife (and FWIW she was acceptably friendly, even charming). They haven't changed with the times; they don't have a website, I don't think they accept credit cards IIRC, etc. So people who want a personalized, old-fashioned experience tend to like those aspects. I find it rather frustrating to not be able to look at a website for a menu or hours (yes, I've been burned by going there to find that there are some days they aren't open). And oh yes, some people like their pizza, although I'm not a big fan of the "burnt crust" style, either there or at Pequod's. As nu_sue implies above, if I loved the pizza, I might very well excuse everything else. However, I just like the pizza better at other places, and with Giordano's and Lou Malnati's both in the immediate vicinity, there's no attraction for me there. But maybe this helps to understand why some people think it's great, even though others don't.
Very fair summary Nsxtasy - except that many truly love his pizza. Quirky, eccentric sure, and best if you know what to expect. But for us it's the best of its type and distinct among area alternatives. What you term 'burnt crust' I gladly call carmelized deliciousness. Burt's is well worth the effort (to the extent calling in your order in advance and heading to MG is an effort). Regret the OP's experience re rudeness etc. but must say that has never been our experience. Highly recommended.
I am inclined to agree with some of the other opinions on this page.
The husband and wife couple that runs this place are a pair of eccentrics. The dining room is comparable to a disorganized attic storage room, cluttered with antiques and junk, and the service was less than one would have liked. The dusty building is somewhat run down and I doubt that the board of health has paid a visit recently.
Burt Katz, himself, looked like a bearded refugee from a hippie commune and he wore a railroad engineer's hat on his head. He kept chasing away prospective customers by telling them that he was expecting a party of eight later that night so they could not be seated at any one of the six or eight vacant tables or booths. He must have repeated this routine three or four times and several people left disappointed. If these people were first time customers, they probably left never to return again. Burt's explanation was that he can only make so many pizzas at one time, so he must limit the number of customers that he would serve.
Burt's wife, Sharon, kept taking casual potshots at other pizzerias. Apparently, there is or was some residual bad blood between Burt and Sharon and the owners of Gulliver's (I was not sure which set of owners as the Howard Street restaurant has changed hands again within the last year) and she felt that it was important to remind everyone of the same. Many years ago, Burt owned and operated Gullivers, but he sold the business (later, he owned Pequod's Pizza, but he sold that business as well). As I was exiting the restaurant, I saw a cartoon mocking other pizzerias on the wall. I thought that it was odd that so much time was spent knocking the competition.
The pizza was better than average (very comparable to the product that Gulliver's used to serve under its prior owners) and the specialty beers from Great Lakes Brewing Company (based in Cleveland) were good. I liked the sauce on the pizza and the crust was good.
Experienced diners called ahead and pre-ordered their pizzas for dining in or carrying out. Although the friend that I joined at the restaurant had pre-ordered, I was challenged upon entering the restaurant because we both arrived separately, a few minutes apart. Once it was explained that we would be seated at the same table, things were sorted out and I was allowed to remain in the dining room.
I found the overall dining experience to be a trifle strange. I expect that many first time customers would feel the same way. Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn would love this place. The pizza was good, but you have to be prepared to play by the owners' rules. Not quite a Seinfeld episode, but unusual.
I eat at Burt's every few weeks, and while it's certainly not the prettiest of restaurants, I've never seen anything that amounts to it being unsanitary.
As for pre-orders, I can sympathize with you, since you were new to the restaurant, but one thing that this board, and all my friends, have made clear to me is that you don't try to go into Burt's without pre-ordering. Everyone calls their orders in, and most are for pickup. As such, you can't judge how "busy" the place is just by how many people are sitting at tables. I watched a couple sit for two hours because they hadn't pre-ordered. Burt's only has like two ovens, which means once they have a certain number of orders in for the night, they are done making pizzas. I was there on a Friday, and the phone rang constantly until they said they wouldn't take any more orders -- and that was at 5:30pm.
They are eccentic people, but I maintain that Burt makes the best pizza in or near Chicago. Call your orders in ahead of time, and I hope you don't write it off. Just take it to go if you don't like eating in. (To me, I love eating in. I always find new things to look at.)
What I should have made clearer is that the food is worthwhile. If you can put up with the idiosyncrasies of the owners, the pizza is quite good. The tomato sauce tastes as if it is homemade, the cheese is good and the crust is excellent. The crust is lightly burnt, not through neglect, but by design. It adds a snap and a crunch to the crust.
I understand the limits that the owners are working under (diners should be grateful that Burt has not simply retired -- after making pizzas for forty years, anyone might be a bit addled). It is a good place, but first time visitors need to be prepared or they might feel that they were being slighted.
The link I'm providing below will give people unfamiliar with Burt's Place a short glimpse into Burt, Sharon and what the restaurant is about; it's from a Anthony Bourdain televised show.
Burt's Place - Probably the best Chicago-style deep-dish pizza
8541 N Ferris Ave, Morton Grove, IL
We finally made it to Burt's yesterday and can safely say it is our new favorite pizza. We called about 3pm and Burt said the pizza would be on the table at 4:30, but to come 10 minutes early for drinks. Sure enough, we walked in at 4:18 and Jeff, the waiter, held up a sign to motion "halt." He came over to seat us at 4:20 and we ordered a couple of Hofbraus. By 4:30, pizza was on the table being sliced and served. Each slice was a gooey, cheesy avalanche of fresh ingredients. At the first bite we both said "wow". The caramelized crust gave the pizza a really unique, rustic flavor. The fresh spinach layered on top was nice and crispy at the edges. Generous toppings made each bite rich and full. By the end of two slices we were entering food coma.
I have been a lifelong proponent of Lou Malnati's. My dining companion has been a lifelong Giordano's man - probably the biggest difference in opinion of our relationship. We came to an agreement over Burt's yesterday on our #1 pizza... though I'll continue arguing for #2.
I can understand that first-timers without instruction would have been put off by the way the restaurant works. But there is a method to their madness, if you know how it goes - you get in, you eat your pizza, and you're out. Frankly after refining his pizza for 40 years, if I were Burt I wouldn't feel the need to impress newcomers either. The service was mostly utilitarian and left the focus on the pizza, though Jeff did ask us related questions like where we heard about them, how we liked it, and when we'll be back. We liked the pizza, and we liked Jeff, so that was a good thing.
We found the atmosphere in the restaurant to be a big part of why we enjoyed the experience. The kitsch invites conversation - we even got into a chat stemming from the Charlie Chaplin poster in the bathroom on our drive home. The quirkiness is endearing, and eating there, we felt like we were participating in a time-honored north side tradition.
Incidentally, our two slices of leftovers reheated beautifully but disappeared twice as fast as we remembered eating in the restaurant. I wish I had another slice right now. Our only regret is we weren't able to chat to Burt like others have - but we'll be back, this time with our friends!