Greasy spoon meets greased palms. The Ramova Grill lies a few blocks north of the 11th Ward Democratic headquarters (the political birthplace of the Daley clan) in Bridgeport. It's not hard to imagine old committeemen hunkered down in the high backed wooden booths, filching swigs of coffee and plotting patronage moves under the cover of cigar smoke and the waft of grilled hamburger air.
The decor is straight out of the 1940s: Chrome-trimmed, red vinyl lunch counter stools sprout from the floor like a row of tulips. The original storage cabinets behind the counter are so warped that the drawers no longer fit flush in their wooden pockets. The refrigerator in the back room is a true icebox, with white curvy doors, thick chrome compression draw-latch handles and an inch of jagged ice lining the interior. The steam from the grill fogs the plate-glass window and hisses like a reptile.
There is no printed menu, just original slate tiles mounted above the counter with chalky lettering. In the only nod to modernity, a dry-erase board has been added for listing the breakfast specials. The prices, like the decor, are a throwback. A burger and fries will set you back $2.25. The menu is focused and sparse: burgers, pork chops, liver and onions and fries. Homemade in 50-gallon batches, the chili is saucy with a sprinkling of meat, beans, and a sweet tinge of cinnamon and allspice balancing the heat. Served with a side of shredded cheese and diced onions, this concoction is more Cincinnati-style than steak Tex-Mex brew.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Michael Nagrant