This week Laura and Joelle are joined by Chef Fred Ramos and Julia Zhu of Bar Roma. Bar Roma specializes in house-made pastas, a variety of meatballs, and other Roman inspired dishes. They also feature a daily happy hour from 5-6:30PM which offers half-priced appetizers and meatballs. You can find this Zagat rated “Must Try” Italian restaurant at 5101 N Clark.
“I really feel like the success we have is because of the patrons in this neighborhood
and the broad base of diverse people.”
– Julia Zhu
- Former commercial banker and Co-owner of Bar Roma, Julia Zhu opened the restaurant with business partner Howard Davis 3 years ago. Many have wondered why she, a Chinese woman, would want to open an Italian restaurant; there are several reasons that she and her partner decided to do so:
- First, Italian restaurants are recession-proof (as said by Mr. Davis after the 2008 recession).
- Second, people can eat Italian food two or three times a week – it just doesn’t get old!
- Third, noodles are key in dishes in several cultures. The earliest mention of noodles comes from the Han Dynasty in China; the pasta phenomenon is thought to have travelled back to Europe with Marco Polo after he visited China in the 13th century. Learn more about the history of pasta here.
- Chef Fred Ramos has been working in Chicago restaurants since he received his degree in International Culinary Arts from Kendall College in 2000. His resume includes work such as Maggiano’s Little Italy, Peli Peli, and Angelina Restaurante.
- Bar Roma has a diverse menu, and includes things like hand made pasta, wood grilled meats, and their most popular: the meatballs.There are five variations on the menu: beef, pork, veal sweetbread, chicken, and vegetarian.
- The handmade pasta – particularly the spaghetti – is definitely one of the more popular items on the menu; they get about 240 orders every week. Their other options include pappardelle (broad, flat ribbon noodles), black fettuccine squid ink, tortellini with seasonal filling (currently butternut squash), and potato gnocchi.
- Chef Ramos uses three different kinds of flour to make his pastas: semolina, durham, and double zero. They also use a lot of eggs.
- Undoubtedly, the most popular item on the menu is Spaghetti Pomodoro, an Italian classic that people know and love. Chef’s favorite dish to make and eat is either the pappardelle with braised oxtail ragu or the butternut squash tortellini. Julia’s favorite is Cacio e Pepe (pictured below), a simple pasta dish made with spaghetti noodles, pecorino cheese, and a dusting freshly cracked black pepper on top; her favorite meatball is the veal sweetbread.
- When Bar Roma was about to open three years ago, Julia wanted to make it feel like visiting was going over to a friend’s house. She really feels that the success she has is because of all of the different people that visit. She also said that she feels the Chamber of Commerce has been incredibly helpful and supportive of her work.
- Having previously worked in several downtown restaurants, the smaller neighborhood is a big change for Chef Ramos. He does enjoy Andersonville’s smaller neighborhood feel as this gives him an opportunity to get to know the customers that come in regularly.
- Bar Roma is one of twenty-two restaurants participating in Andersonville Restaurant Week, which ends on March 3rd. They are offering a $30, four course prie fixe menu consisting of winter veggie minestrone, cacio e pepe with the patron’s choice of meatball, chicken parmesan, and warm panettone bread pudding with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
- Bar Roma also offers brunch on Sundays from 10:30 AM-2 PM. Mimosas accompanied by tiramisu french toast, eggs benedict with smoked salmon, or carbonara pasta with an egg and pancetta creme on that patio is an excellent way to wake up on a sleepy Sunday morning.
- When asked what advice Chef Ramos would provide culinary students, he suggests getting a job in a kitchen before attending culinary school – keep an eye on postings in the area here – as well as expecting to work as a cook before working as a chef. For young entrepreneurs Julia recommends being prepared for a challenge seven days a week, and building a proper foundation. Expanding too quickly can mean the demise of a business. Finally, they both recommend finding people you work well with – they key for the Bar Roma has been a the great team that Chef and Julia have assembled
- If they were to swap with another Andersonville business for a day, Julia would choose the Chicago Magic Lounge (5050 N Clark) because it’s fun and attracts a lot of people to the area; Chef Ramos would choose Anteprima (5316 N Clark),the other local Italian restaurant, or Hopleaf (5148 N Clark) because drinking beer all day sounds wonderful.
Thank you for joining us today and thank you for listening to Always Andersonville: the Podcast. For more information about Bar Roma, please visit barromachicago.com. Show notes on today’s episode can be found at andersonville.org.