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Vanquished by COVID-19, R.J. Grunts Modernizes Its Famous Salad Bar

Also, the James Beard Awards will return in 2022

A card that reads “the digital chopped salad bar” on a wooden table between two large salads.
RJ Grunts salad bar returns with a twist.
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises [Official Photo]

R.J. Grunts, the Lincoln Park restaurant that launched mammoth Chicago restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises 50 years ago, has long touted its salad bar — even claiming to have brought the concept to the U.S. COVID-19 brought buffets and self-serve options to a halt. And even though some are returning across the country, LEYE is tweaking its offerings at RJ Grunts with a reimagined pandemic-era version they’re calling the “Digital Chopped Salad Bar.”

Instead of sauntering up to a physical bar to assemble a personalized salad, patrons can choose eight to 10 out of 35 total ingredient options, checking off items with an analog paper card at the table or venturing online. Grunts’ salad bar had been shut down since March 2020.

Options include more than 20 vegetables, including basil-marinated tomatoes, avocado, and spicy giardiniera; proteins such as grilled chicken, tuna salad, and bacon; grains and legumes like quinoa and garbanzo beans; crunchy toppers like tortilla strips and croutons; and a choice of dressing — all atop a bed of greens. Eat your hearts out, Sweetgreen.

The release of this new feature coincides with Grunts and Lettuce Entertain You’s 50th anniversary. Co-founder and board chairman Rich Melman told the Tribune that weed figured largely in the planning of the restaurant, pointing to the “awful” name as a result of a stoned brainstorming session.

As the pandemic wanes and the city’s hospitality industry strives to recover, technology has taken on a new role. QR code menus remain common, and online platforms like Toast have advanced to the role of a contactless server, merging tickets and closing checks at spots like the Duplex and Paulie Gee’s in Logan Square and Orkenoy in Humboldt Park.

In other news...

— The James Beard Foundation on Tuesday announced that the awards would be returning in 2022 after a two-year hiatus. The restaurant awards routinely take place at the Lyric Opera Chicago, but due to COVID-19 and an uproar regarding a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion the awards haven’t taken place since 2020. City officials declined comment to Eater Chicago about a potential date for the gala. The Beards, yes — “the Oscars of the restaurant world” — typically take place in May.

— The Tribune’s food section took another blow as veteran writer Adam Lukach has departed the newspaper, part of the workers that have taken buyouts after New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital took control of the paper in May. The food staff now consists of co-critics Louisa Chu and Nick Kindelsperger, reporter Josh Noel, and editor Ariel Cheung. Lukach was an unsung hero of the food section and most recently was behind the paper’s “Eat. Watch. Do.” newsletter.

— A group of local chefs is part of a mutual aid effort that formed last year due to COVID-19. Now, that effort — Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and Getting Grown Collective — is sticking around, according to Block Club Chicago. Chefs Fresh Roberson (Fresher Together), Roberto Pérez (Urban Pilón), Karla Adora Morales (Amor y Sofrito), and Kwamena Jackson (Let Us Breathe Collective) prepare 350 meals per week which distributed to residents in Little Village, Englewood, South Shore, Marquette Park, Washington Park, and Humboldt Park. Read more at Block Club.

— And finally, the makers of Lemonhead and SweetTarts (and an authorized baker of Girl Scout cookies) — Ferrara — will on Wednesday morning celebrate a ribbon cutting for the company’s new $100 million and 1.6 million-square-foot production facility in DeKalb. Ferrara remains headquartered in Chicago and has 20 locations across the continent. State and local officials, including Sylvia Garcia, the acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, will be in attendance.

R.J. Grunts

2056 North Lincoln Park West, , IL 60614 (773) 929-5363 Visit Website

Lyric Opera

20 N Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606 312 332 2244 Visit Website

Lettuce Entertain You

5419 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 878-7340