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Here's Everything You Need To Know About Thursday's Benton House 'Ramova Room' Soup Kitchen Fundraiser

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 22, 2013 7:30PM

Photo credit: Chicagoist/Chuck Sudo
We're two days away from "Chicagoist Presents: The Benton House 'Ramova Room' Soup Kitchen" and we know there are still some outstanding questions regarding the event. Will this be an actual soup kitchen for the disadvantaged? Will we be able to accommodate a large crowd? And where the Hell is Benton House.

So we decided to answer all the questions that have been fielded regarding the Jan. 24 event to clear up any remaining confusion. If you still have questions after reading this, please leave them in the comments or feel free to email me directly. Hopefully, we'll see you at Benton House Thursday

How did this come about, exactly?

The seeds were planted last September after we saw the booths, counter and stools of the former Ramova Grill cleaned and installed in Benton House, a community center in Bridgeport with roots in Chicago’s settlement house era. The history of Benton House and Ramova Grill dovetailed nicely together with this second life given to Ramova Grill’s furnishings and make for a nice selling point for Benton House’s fundraising efforts.

We wanted to highlight the sense of community in the neighborhood: Ramova Grill’s furnishings were restored via hours of volunteer work from area churches and youth programs. Given Ramova Grill’s history, we also wanted to involve chefs who grew up, currently live or work in or near Bridgeport.

Who are those chefs and what soups are they making?

It’s a Murderer’s Row. Jason Vincent of Nightwood is making a bean and belly soup. Vera’s Mark Mendez (who grew up in Bridgeport) is working on a tribute to Ramova Grill’s chili. Daniel Sarkiss of Zaytune Mediterranean Grill plans on bringing lamb and yogurt stew. The Bridgeport Pasty Co. team of Jay Sebastien and Carrie Clark are making a Tuscan bean soup with a chicken stock base. For the vegetarians, Pleasanthouse Bakery’s Art Jackson is making Moroccan tagine soup with winter squash, chickpeas, currants and coriander, while Allium’s Kevin Hickey—who went to pre-school at Benton House— Brussels kraut soup with potatoes, kielbasa & rye croutons. (He’s also making a version of this soup without the kielbasa.)

Wow! That sounds tasty. What else should we expect?

Expect a ton of bread to go with all this soup. Bridgeport Bakery, Bruno’s Bakery in Bridgeport, and Peerless Bread & Jam have each promised a dozen loaves of bread. Cheesemonger Giles Schinerle is bringing a small selection of cheeses for the occasion. We’re in the process of finalizing beverage donations for coffee and soda.

And we can announce that Kevin Hickey is bringing Bill Kim (Urban Belly, Belly Shack, Belly Q) along for the ride.

This sounds a lot like a Soup and Bread event? Is this associated with Soup and Bread?

It’s a Soup and Bread-inspired event and we owe a major debt of gratitude to Martha Bayne and Sheila Sachs for their guidance and suggestions throughout the course of organizing this. But this is independent of Soup and Bread.

What is this event supporting?

Benton House has a food pantry that provides food to 400 needy families in the neighborhood per month. All proceeds from this will go toward the program.

There are 219 people on the event’s Facebook page committed to attending. Will Benton House be able to hold that many people?

Honestly, we’d be pleasantly surprised if all 219 of those who say they’re coming actually do. The Ramova Room can hold around 50-60 people, which will be a problem only if we have a line out the door at 6 p.m. But Benton House is a large complex incorporating two buildings and a garden, and the building where the Ramova Room is located also contains a computer room and a gymnasium. Benton House staffers will host guided tours of the complex beginning at 6: 30 p.m., with tours following at 7:15 p.m., 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

What is the cost?

There’s a $10 suggested donation. If you can give more, please do. If you can’t, that’s also okay. The main things we want to achieve here are highlighting the programs Benton House has in place to assist the community and highlight the Ramova Room and the neighborhood’s history.

Where is Benton House located?

Benton House is located at 3052 S. Gratten Ave. That’s two blocks west of Maria’s Community Bar and Pleasant House Bakery. The complex is located immediately west of Bosley Playground and the closest CTA would be the Archer Avenue Bus or the Orange Line Ashland Avenue and Halsted Street Stations. The event runs from 6 to 9 p.m.

I can’t make it to the event. Is there another way to donate or contribute to Benton House?

Benton House doesn’t have a donations page on their website. They’ve been an annual beneficiary of the Soup and Bread series at the Hideout for four years and you can attend that on Feb. 2 March 13, where the proceeds donated from Soup and Bread will benefit Benton House. Benton House also participates in the annual Greater Chicago Food Depository 5K Hunger Walk. This year’s walk is June 23.

If you want to make an in-kind donation or volunteer, call executive director Mark Lennon at 773-927-6420 for more information.