Last visit November 3, 2010
R.J. Grunts was the first restaurant opened, on June 10, 1971, by Rich Melman who went on to build the Lettuce Entertain You empire of restaurants. The name comes from R. for Rich Melman, J. for Jerry Orsoff, his partner, and Grunts because Orsoff's girlfriend supposedly grunted when she ate. All of their other early ventures with similarly silly names, such as Lawrence of Oregano and Jonathan Livingston Seafood, have long since closed but when they announced this one was closing because it was losing money, the old regulars started coming out of the woodwork with cries of protest, Melman became nostalgic and decided to keep it open, working there himself to make the restaurant profitable again along with his son R.J. who was named after the restaurant.
Even though I lived a few blocks away many years ago, the first time I ate here was well after I moved away and I'm sorry I didn't get to it sooner. The restaurant is very casual, the walls are adorned with black and white photos of the waitresses that have come and gone. The tables are close together but it's a small enough place that it's not conversation challenged. Open for lunch and dinner.
Very close to the Lincoln Park Zoo and Park West, not too far from the Chicago History Museum.
Favorite Dish: R.J. Grunts claims to have the first salad bar, well maybe not the first salad bar ever, but at least in Chicago! But with all the yummy sandwiches and burgers, I always order off the menu. On the most recent visit I had a Hickory BBQ burger ($10.50) and David had the buffalo chicken nacho appetizer ($8.50) as an entree. Everything we've ever eaten here has been good.
The menu here is mostly burgers and sandwiches or you can get the salad and soup bar by itself or in combination with a burger or sandwich. Their milkshakes are very good but I didn't have one on this visit. Most entrees are under $11, our tab was $25 for the two of us. But we got a nice surprise when the manager (?) came over and had us play a game of 21, she said it was in honor of the Earl of Sandwich's birthday (one of the origins of sandwich says that he invented it at the gambling tables because it allowed him to have one hand free) and that whomever won got their entree free. Nice!
RJ Grunts is our kids favorite place to go after a long day of visiting the zoo, or the air and water show, or whatever lakefront activity we may have been involved in. Right across the street from Lincoln Park Zoo, this place has been around since the early 70s, and still has a very hippie, early 70s feel to it. Standard, well done food - burgers, sandwiches, ribs etc. is what they do best, with a nice salad bar for Mom and Dad that RJ Grunts claims was their invention. I do remember as a kid that this was about the only restaurant I had ever seen a salad bar in....
The service is ALWAYS excellent, and its very kid friendly. Good, cheap kids menu too.
Favorite Dish: Its all good. Nothing is great, but nothing will diasappoint. The kids love to order shakes because they come in the huge metal container and they pour them out for you at your table.