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Spotlight On The Ramova Grill

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jul 26, 2005 2:30PM

Some of Chicagoist’s fondest memories occurred in a diner setting. Right now just thinking of old standbys like the old Huddle House on North Avenue (now known as the Hollywood Grill), Ravenswood Restaurant, or Alexander’s on Clark Street conjure vivid memories of breakfast skillets, chili, home fries, salty coffee, and key lime pie. We’ve sometimes gone so far as to plot our bike rides so that we can stop at Walker Brothers’ Original Pancake House in Wilmette for the apple pancake, which is really one gigantic turnover that dares to be eaten in one sitting.

One of the best bowls of chili in the city can be found at the Ramova Grill, family owned and serving it up since 1929. Nestled in a small storefront along south Halsted, the Ramova Grill sits two doors down from the abandoned theater that shares its name. During the Golden Age of cinema the Ramova Theater was a beautiful movie house. Built by architect Meyer O. Nathan the Ramova, at 1,500 seats, is the larger identical twin sister of the still-thriving Music Box. Where it once hosted- along with the Music Box- the Chicago premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” in its heyday, the Ramova Theater in 2005 is city property awaiting a developer or the wrecking ball.

The Ramova Grill still thrives, however. And that has to do with its chili and the atmosphee surrounding the place. Follow past the jump and we’ll tell you a bit more about the Ramova Grill.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the Ramova Grill is the large window in front of the grill. This allows everyone who passes outside to watch the cooks prepare their dishes without actually being in the kitchen. Pedestrians pass by all day, peeping to outright staring at owner/cook Bill Gertos and his staff in action. Chicagoist can’t think of another restaurant where you get that kind of street-side view

The Ramova is small. It boasts a lunch counter and four or five comfortable high-backed booths. Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s a retro design happening here: these are the original booths and counters they opened the business with seventy-six years ago. And they’re still in good shape.

Now let’s get to the food, which is quintessential diner fare. This is not budget buster food here. The most expensive item on the Ramova’s menu is less than six dollars. You’ll find Denver omelettes, corned beef hash, skirt steak dinners, eggs cooked any way, burgers, and light fare. Typically, we order the grilled chicken sandwich, seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano and served on toast with some of the crispiest fries you’ll find anywhere.

But it’s the chili that has us running back to the Ramova. Chicagoist will warn you now that this is NOT vegetarian-friendly chili. It’s loaded with seasoned ground beef. Teeming with spices that never reach five-alarm levels and served with or without beans or with chili, it is one of those dishes that you’ll talk about for days. Take some alka-seltzer with you. The Ramova Grill also serves their chili to go by the pint or quart. A quart with beans will set you back $6.75.

If you find yourself in the vicinity of 35th and Halsted, check out the Ramova Grill. They’re located at 3510 S. Halsted. They’re open Monday-Thursday from 5:30a.m.-7:30 p.m., Saturday from 5:30a.m.-5:30 p.m., and Sunday from 5:30a.m.-12 p.m. The phone number is (773) 847-9058.