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Gullivers Pizza, open since 1965 and best known for its antique collection and the Chicago-style pan pizza first made by the late legendary pizza master Burt Katz, will close permanently Sunday.
Katz opened the pizzeria in the West Rogers Park neighborhood with Jerry Freeman. The business partners split in 1968. Freeman went on to create not just an eclectic restaurant, but a home for his antiques obsession.
“In the ‘70s they were tearing down a lot of old buildings in Chicago, and pickers would go through and take out all these beautiful chandeliers and sconces,” his wife, Nancy Freeman, told the Tribune when Jerry Freeman died in 2006.
According to a 1988 three-star Tribune review, “Wherever diners are seated at heavy wooden tables and chairs, they are surrounded by one of the largest collections of Victorian antiques in the city.”
The property has sold, but the antiques remain for sale, including a chandelier with a $3,800 price tag hanging in the foyer.
Gullivers’ current owners, father and son Chris and Dino Karageorgis, will keep an Oakbrook Terrace location open, serving largely the same menu — and most importantly, the same pizza.
Chicago-style pan pizza is similar, but not the same as Chicago-style deep-dish. Pan has a thicker, focaccia-like crust. Deep-dish has a thinner, pie-like crust. Both are filled with toppings, with the sauce on top of everything, including the cheese.
Gullivers, originally spelled Gulliver’s, was the first of Katz’s pizzerias named for literary references. He would go on to open Pequod’s — named for the whaling ship in “Moby Dick” — where a caramelized crust became his signature. Starback’s, originally Starbuck’s (a name taken by a certain Seattle coffee company) was named for the first mate of the Pequod, and eventually became Burt’s Place.
On Thursday morning, in front of the restaurant on Howard Street, customers waited on the sidewalk and in cars parked out front with hazard lights blinking.
Inside, general manager George Gamilis frantically tried to answer the incessantly ringing phone, while running back for takeout orders and turning away diners.
“The dining room doesn’t open until 4 p.m.,” Gamilis said repeatedly. “The wait for a pizza is about an hour to an hour-and-a-half.”
That was too long for two hungry customers.
“It’s a sad day,” said Sam Grill. “We’ve been coming here for 50 years. We just wanted to have one last pizza. ”
His regular order had been a sausage pan pizza. Where’s he going to get pizza now?
“I may never eat pizza again,” Grill said.
A luckier customer walked out with a pizza box in hand.
“We’ve been coming here for probably about 40 years,” Carmie Callobre said. “My husband and I have been able to eat here so often.”
She held on tightly to the last of their regular order, a ground beef and pepperoni pan pizza.
“It’s unlike other deep-dish type pizzas, which can be kind of soggy and just full of sauce,” Callobre said. “No, no, no. This is excellent. This is the bomb. This is great. I’m going to miss it.”
Two other customers had been sitting and chatting in the closed dining room before taking their food out to the car. For one, the visit was especially bittersweet.
“Unfortunately, my first time here is going to be on their closing weekend,” Sarah Murphy said. She’s been trying to visit a different iconic neighborhood restaurant every week for the past few months.
Her friend has visited a few times over the years.
“We’re going to sit in the car and finish our pizza,” said Pam Wilkerson. She held their boxed spinach and mushroom pizza. “I’m trying to support local restaurants, because it’s very important for neighborhoods to have interesting local restaurants.”
“I don’t want the same thing, no matter what city you’re in,” Wilkerson said. “So I spread around my dining dollars.”
Back inside the restaurant, Gamilis was still trying to answer the phone as fast as it rang. He had no time for any questions unrelated to pizza, and certainly not to wonder why they were closing.
“I don’t know why,” he said. “I can’t give you that answer.”
“Gullivers, please hold. Gullivers, please hold.”
Block Club Chicago first reported news of the closure.
2727 W. Howard St., 773-338-2166. 17W517 Roosevelt Road, Oakbrook Terrace, 630-691-1888. gulliverspizza.com
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