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Acclaimed South Side Chef Could Resurrect 82-Year-Old Bridgeport Diner and Its Storied Chili

Duck Inn chef Kevin Hickey is part of a $23 million project to revive the Ramova Theater and its restaurant

A rendering of a theater with a lit up marqee.
A rendering of the proposal to renovate the Ramova Theater.
Ramova Theater [Official Rendering]
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Duck Inn chef and owner Kevin Hickey wants to revive what was once one of Chicago’s oldest restaurants and is part of a $23 million plan that could bring back the Bridgeport icon. Hickey is a partner in a team that wants to renovate the 90-year-old Ramova Theater, a storied venue that closed in 1986.

The theater’s restaurant, Ramova Grill, closed in 2012 after an 82-year-run at 3510 S. Halsted Street. The diner’s signature item was full of South Side lore. Hickey grew up eating the greasy spoon’s chili, a homemade item advertised on a red neon sign on its window.

Co-owner Tony Dinos died in 2017 and no one’s been able to 100-percent reverse-engineer the chili recipe which featured beef and came with or without beans. Hickey pointed out one prevailing theory — the chili is just simply reheated Hormel. Whatever the case, generations of South Siders happily grew up eating bowls of it, and Hickey wants to bring back the nostalgia.

Hickey will add to the chili’s story. His recipe won first place, beating out several of Chicago’s best chefs, at the Chicago Gourmet’s competition that took place over the summer. The base for the recipe comes from his father who worked at another South Side institution, Lindy’s Chili.

Back in the ‘50s, Lindy’s apparently fired the elder Hickey after he asked for a nickel per-hour raise, according to his son. Frustrated with ownership, he took Lindy’s chili recipe with him after his dismissal. Through the years, the Hickeys have built upon that recipe.

The chili will play a big part in the Ramova Grill revival. For example, Kevin Hickey may smother a Duck Inn Dog to create a Detroit-style Coney dog.

A large duck fat hot dog with Chicago-style toppings.
A new Ramova Grill could serve Kevin Hickey’s hot dogs with chili instead of Chicago-style toppings.
The Duck Inn [Official Photo]

Hickey is busy this week with the opening of Time Out Market on Fulton Market where he has two stalls: Duck Inn Dogs and Decent Beef. The chef is full of South Side pride — at Time Out, his food hall stall is the only one that features a Chicago neighborhood, with “Bridgeport” prominently written out on Duck Inn Dogs’ signage. Ramova is about a 10-minute drive south of Duck Inn.

Developers unveiled plans for Ramova’s renovation on Tuesday at a community meeting which Block Club Chicago attended and was first to report the news. They want to transform the theater into a music venue with room for 1,600 people. There have been several attempts to revive the space through the years.

The project isn’t a done deal — it needs several approvals and to secure funding. The best-case scenario would be for construction to start in the first quarter of 2020, Hickey said, with an opening sometime in 2021.

The Duck Inn

2701 South Eleanor Street, , IL 60608 (312) 724-8811 Visit Website