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Monday, February 07, 2011

Gulliver's Pizza and Pub [Meeting #104]

Gulliver’s Pizza and Pub
2727 W Howard Ave [Google Maps]
Chicago, IL 60645
(773) 338-2166

CPC invaded GULLIVER’S Pizza and Pub on February 4, 2011.

According to El Presidente, Chicago Pizza Club meeting #3 was held at Gulliver’s way back in 2003, before the days of this blog. Thus, no review was ever written and no photos were ever taken. To rectify this, CPC members emerged from their snow-ridden homes, after having braved “Blizzaster 2011,” a.k.a. “Snowmaggedon,” and met up at Gulliver’s, in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood.

Gulliver’s was started in 1965 by Jerry Freeman and Burt Katz, claiming to offer the “North Side’s original pan pizza.” Shortly thereafter, Mr. Katz moved on to open Pequod’s and then Burt’s Place, while Mr. Freeman stayed on as proprietor until his death in 2006. Since opening in Chicago, Gulliver’s has expanded to two other Chicagoland locations, in Glenview and Oak Brook Terrace.

The d├ęcor here is something out of a Vincent Price movie. The dining areas are filled with an amber-colored light, emitted from an eclectic array of chandeliers, and absorbed by the dark wood trim, walls, and furniture. Carefully placed throughout the rooms are marble busts on columns and various photos and antiques hanging on the walls. Buttressed by the aroma of fresh pizza, this bizarre space is quite welcoming.

Gulliver’s offers three kinds of pizza: (1) pizza in the pan, (2) thin crust, and (3) stuffed. With a wide array of topping options, most everyone will find their usual or unusual combination. On this evening, CPC ordered one of each pie and took the following account:

  • Pizza in the pan, large (14”), with sausage and garlic
  • Thin crust, medium (12”), with artichoke and black olives
  • Stuffed, small (9”), with pepperoni and onions
The pizza in the pan is dense. On presentation, the pie looked very much like a Lou Malnati’s deep dish, in that the chunky tomato sauce, garlic, and sausage were all clearly visible on top, with the cheese embedded. However, where Lou’s crust is golden cornmeal yellow, this pie had a lighter biscuit-like shade.

On taste, the pie is a winner. The sauce was juicy and tangy with strong notes of oregano. The chunks of tomato give it texture. The garlic was chopped fine and was plentiful. The sausage portions were cut big and while they were meaty and flavorful, they were not very spiced, reminiscent of the sausage used at Lou Malnati’s. This reviewer prefers the fennel sausage Chi-town magic found at Sano’s. The crust was crispy at the edge and bready at the base, with hints of butter throughout. It is in the crust that I take some exception. Although well-made and pleasant, it was somewhat bland and unspectacular.

The thin crust was my least favorite. On presentation, it looks generic. The toppings held well in the cheese and the crust had no char. On taste, it skewed towards the toppings and lacked an overall point. The sauce was pasty, bearing little resemblance to the sauce in the other pies. The cheese was firm and had little oil. The crust was solid, but bland. As the sum of its parts, this pie had little to offer by way of flavor or inspiration. Go pan or stuffed.

The stuffed was totally unexpected. After having tried the pizza in the pan, I expected it to be two pan pizzas stuffed into one. As my last stuffed pizza experience ended with a frown, I had low expectations. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. This pie had a character all its own.

This pie has great finesse. Like an undersized defensive tackle, it does not overwhelm with mass, but wins with technique and elusiveness. For instance, the onions were substantial, but melted away in my mouth. The pepperoni gave the pie porky protein, but did not overwhelm. The pie was deep, but the crust was light. The amalgam of cheese, sauce, and toppings flowed, but maintained individual structural integrity. Some would call this pie, “stuffed light.” For many, including this reviews, that is just fine.

The bill for three pies, six bottles of Fat Tire, one pint of Guinness, and one side-salad was $87.00. With tip, it came out to $17.00 per person. Score!

7 comments:

  1. I really liked the pan pizza here, not as good as a Malnati's or a Pizano's, but definitely solid. The stuffed pizza was a nice surprise, and I usually don't even really like stuffed pizza… the thin crust however was just awful. If you go, stick to the pan and stuffed, and based on those two pies I give this place a 6. The thin crust gets a 3.

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  2. Gulliver's Pizza and Pub is a cozy establishment serving good pan and stuffed pizza. My favorite of the night was the pan, based on the combination of pizza style and topping selection. I don't even want to discuss the thin crust because it's not worth it. I will say that once I tried the thin crust, it was cold, but I like cold pizza when it's good so I won't even give the benefit of the doubt, since everyone seemed to agreed that it sucked. Just a clue about the thin crust, that lasting flavor was of a saltine cracker...not my idea of good thin crust having grown up in Connecticut.

    Back to the pan, I enjoyed the whole slice. I agree that it's not as good as Pizano's deep dish, which seems to be my favorite when it comes to this style, however I loved the sausage and garlic, and the tomato sauce and cheese stood up just fine. The sausage is mild, and I didn't find any gross chewy pieces! The crust is mediocre, so it all comes together nicely.

    In my mind, their stuffed pizza was a thicker version of the pan. It had more bread and maybe more cheese, but not an overwhelming amount. Ours had pepperoni and onion, and I appreciated the proportions they used. The generally salty meat didn't not steal the show; It was well balanced with the thick onion chunks, which had some crunch without the strong raw onion flavor (though I do love raw onion!).

    All in all, if I'm way up north and want a heavier pizza, I would go to Gulliver's.

    Gulliver's gets a 7 based on the pan and stuffed, but if I have to factor in the thin crust, then I would say the score goes down to a 5 (sorry Gull!).

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  3. The thin crust is definitely a big miss. It's just not very good, and there are so many fantastic thin crust options in the city, there's just no need to bother with it at Gulliver's.

    That said, both the pan pizza and the stuffed pizza were very good. I usually don't like stuffed pizza, but I really enjoyed the sauce on this pie. The tomatoes were chunky and visible, and although there was plenty of cheese, it wasn't overkill.

    The pan pizza was also good. Lots of big sauces pieces, pretty evenly distributed, and more use of the good tomato sauce. The crust was just alright for me -- it's not bad, but there's room for improvement.

    Definitely worth the trip if you skip the thin crust.

    I give Gulliver's a 6.0.

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  4. I give the stuffed a 7, the pan a 7, and the thin crust a 4 ... for an average score of 6.

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  6. At first glance the thin crust looked delicious but the first bite was a different story. With a skimpy amount of sauce and dry, pastry-like crust there was nothing redeemable about this pie. Don’t even think about ordering the thin crust at Gulliver’s Pizza!

    Putting the thin crust aside, the stuffed pizza was one of the best I’ve ever had. Keeping in mind that I’m not normally a fan of stuffed pizza, the win for Gulliver’s was in how all of the toppings came together. Without overwhelming cheese or dried-out crust like many stuffed pizzas have, this was by far the best pie of the night.

    Initially I thought the pan was going to be a winner, not as good as my benchmark Lou Malnati’s but still a solid pizza. After finishing the first slice though I didn’t have the urge to come back for much more.

    Overall I think this will be my one and only trip to Gulliver’s. Unless you happen to be on the far north side and dying for a stuffed pizza, I simply can’t recommend this spot.
    4.7

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  7. I used to love Gulliver's thin crust! Haven't been there in many years so i haven't had the other styles. My wife is a North sider, that's how I was exposed to it. I would suggest the "club" visit "Arranello's" in Glenwood, Illinois. It was ranked 2nd in the Trib when they used to have an Eating Well section. It is distinguished by it's sweet sauce.

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