Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.
Along the northern border of Chicago, Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz opened Gulliver's Pizzeria in 1965. Not long after opening, the two split and Katz went on to start a few other pizzerias, including Pequod's (reviewed here on Slice) and Burt's Place (reviewed here). Freeman gave up his day job as an insurance adjuster and devoted himself Gulliver's, where he would remain for more than 40 years until his death in 2006.
Over time, Gulliver's changed a bit. Freeman developed an interest in antiques, particularly lighting fixtures and sconces. Over time, he became a man obsessed, scouring not only antiques stores and shows but going around to old buildings slated for demolition and buying up things to take back to his store. Eventually, he amassed what the restaurant claims is the world's largest collection of its kind in the United States, that "kind" defined as American and European antiques from the Victorian and Art Nouveau eras (1860 to 1915). And today, every wall, nook, and most of the ceiling are covered in Freeman's collection.
2727 W. Howard Street Chicago IL 60645 (map); (773) 338-2166
Getting There: Red Line to Howard Street, then #97 bus west to California Ave.
Pizza Style:Deep-dish, stuffed, and thin-crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Serving up high-quality deep-dish since 1965 in a setting that resembles a museum's attic
Price: $20.78 for a medium deep-dish pizza with two toppings
Fortunately, Gulliver's made a very good pizza—good enough that as businesses on each side of the pizzeria went under, the restaurant was able to expand to its present size with three dining rooms capable of seating about 350 people and, of course, holding even more antiques. In addition to the restaurant's size and its art collection, the menu also grew considerably over the years, expanding from pizza and a few additional Italian staples to one that includes burgers, sandwiches, and, oddly, a lot of Mexican options.
But it was the pizza that made Gulliver's famous and it was the pizza I was there to try. I had never been before, and since they are best known for deep-dish pies, that was what I went with. I was tempted by unique toppings, like turkey and alfredo sauce, but settled on a pie with spicy sausage and sliced tomatoes.
The deep-dish pizza at Gulliver's (which they call a pan pizza) is constructed with the standard half-inch or so crust, covered with a thick layer of cheese, then toppings, and, finally, a thick, chunky tomato sauce. As is the case with Lou Malnati's (reviewed here), the slices of fresh tomato go on top of the sauce.
The golden crust at Gulliver's was a touch lighter and crisper than is typical for a deep-dish pie, but it still held up well to the cheese, sauce, and toppings. The spicy Italian sausage definitely had a nice little kick to it that was well balanced by the tangy, chunky tomato sauce. My only criticism of the pizza was that after it was done cooking, the chef decided to sprinkle way too much oregano on top. If they're going to put it in the sauce, and they're going to give me all the oregano I want at the table, I don't get why the chef felt it necessary to dump so much on top of the finished pie.
I've read some online reports that Gulliver's lost some quality since Freeman's family sold the business last year. I never went while Freeman was still alive, so I can't comment one way or the other about that with any certainty. That said, to the extent that people have leveled specific complaints (e.g. one commenter said the sauce was runny), I did not find them to be accurate. Gulliver's serves a very good deep-dish pizza that has earned the praise that so many Rogers Park residents heap on it.
Burt's Place: Home of the Pizza King of Chicago
Lou Malnati's: Home of Flawless Deep Dish
Pequod's: Come for the Carmelized Crust, Stay for Great Pizza
Uno's, Chicago's Original Deep-Dish Pizza
Art of Pizza, Usually a Classic, But Not This Time