On a Sunday night after the recent AXPONA high-end audio show that was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Rosemont, IL, we packed up the gear and by the time all the big stuff was put away, we were tired and hungry. My colleague, John, and I stopped back to the hotel to freshen up a bit before we decided where we wanted to eat. At the front desk, one of the ladies gave me a listing of area restaurants. One of the places was the RAM Restaurant and Brewery. I can't tell you the last time I'd been to a Ram, but there was one not far from the hotel. We decided to head over there that evening.
Ram Restaurant and Brewery is a subsidiary of RAM International, a restaurant group that also oversees the operation of CB & Potts brewpubs in Colorado, and stand alone restaurants in Washington state and Idaho. There are 18 Ram Restaurant and Brewery locations in Washington, Illinois, Idaho, Oregon, and Indiana. RAM International is a family owned business that started in 1971 when two fraternity brothers from the University of Washington - Cal Chandler and Jeff Iverson, Sr - took over an old Shakey's Pizza Parlor in the Seattle suburb of Lakewood and turned it into the Ram Pub. Chandler had left his position in the banking industry and Iverson had been working with a family business that did commercial property development.
Friends and family thought they were crazy for leaving stable jobs and getting into the volatile restaurant business. But before long, Chandler and Iverson had two more Ram Pubs in the Seattle area. And when brewpubs became the rage in the 80's, they added brewing equipment to their restaurants and called their beer Big Horn Beer.
30 years after starting the Ram Pub, Chandler and Iverson passed their interest in RAM International to their sons, Jeff Chandler, Jeff Iverson, Jr. and David Iverson. Jeff Chandler sold his shares to Jeff Iverson, Jr. in 2006 and went off to do his own restaurant venture.
The Iverson brothers resisted expansion of the RAM International empire in the mid-00's, especially when money was easy to get from banks for such an expansion. However, when the banking crisis hit and the economy went into the toilet in 2008, they saw rival restaurants that had expanded during that time pull back or go out of business. Once the economy came back, they made their move by adding three more locations in the Seattle area.
The Rosemont location for the Ram Restaurant and Brewery is on Higgins Road, just west of River Road in Rosemont. (see map) I've eaten at the Schaumburg location near Woodfield Mall and IKEA a number of years ago, and I may have even eaten at the one up in north suburban Wheeling along Milwaukee Ave. at one point a few years ago, too. But, quite honestly, I can't remember. I've been past the one in Wheeling enough that I figure that I've had to stop by at some point in time.
It was well after 8 p.m. when we walked into the Ram and we were greeted by a hostess who asked if we wanted to sit in the bar area or in the dining room. The bar looked like it could rival any type of sports bar I'd been to. It featured a large projection screen above and behind the bar with four flat screen panels flanking either side of the screen. That is my ultimate "man dream" to have a set up exactly like that in my house. But I don't see that happening anytime soon, as in, forever.
The dining room was more formal and elegant - and more quiet. After listening to great music on great audio systems all weekend long, John said he'd like to unwind in the dining area. We were seated at a table that had banquette seating on one side and a chair on the other. She left off menus for us and our server for the evening, Marilu, came by to take our beer order. After a quick gander at the beer menu, I decided on getting the 71 pale ale - obviously named after the year the Ram Restaurant and Brewery was founded. John got the Big Red IPA - an American style India Pale Ale that isn't quite as forward or hoppy as traditional IPA's.
They were having a promotion called "Burgerama" at Ram when we were there. Each year, Ram chefs come up with unusual and interesting burgers that they trot out for a month and gauge people's interest in them. During this Burgerama at Ram, they featured burgers such as the El Zorro Burger - a spicy-seasoned burger patty, grilled and served on a pepper jack Kaiser bun and topped with Wisconsin mozzarella, cilantro, guacamole, pickled onion, chorizo sausage and a chipotle-tarragon drizzle. The Tumbleweed burger featured a seasoned beef patty, grilled and topped with onion crisps and Anaheim pepper strips, then finished with a spicy chipotle ranch dressing. And the Rhinelander (pictured right) featured a burger and grilled bratwurst on a pretzel bun with a black jack aioli spread. Then they added sauteed amber ale marinated onions, sauerkraut, red bell pepper, creamy havarti, and focaccia garlic butter, with horseradish cream. Man, that sounded like one busy burger!
There were also a number of regular burgers on the menu at Ram including the Bourbon Black Jack - a cracked pepper encrusted beef patty topped with pepper jack cheese and a whiskey mustard with the standard burger veggies. That sounded interesting, but I was looking more for something like comfort food that evening.
Ooooo.... Something else caught my eye - blackened fish tacos. You had your choice of blackened haddock or salmon served in soft flour tortillas and topped with chopped cabbage and a chipotle-tarragon sauce. I almost pulled the trigger on that.
But what ultimately made my stomach do jumping jacks was the Total Disorder Porter Meatloaf - Ram's variation of meatloaf made with ground beef, ground veal and ground sausage mixed together with chopped onions and green bell peppers with a dijon sauce. It's baked, then char-grilled before serving. It came with with cheddar mashed potatoes, a mushroom/tomato demi-glace sauce and onion straws. (For my meatloaf that I make at home, I use a mixture of 1/3 ground beef, 1/3 ground veal, and 1/3 ground pork.)
John was thinking about a burger or a sandwich. But after I ordered the meatloaf, he looked it up on the menu and said, "God, that sounds great." He turned to Marilu and said, "I want that, too!"
She said, "The meatloaf is one of my favorites." I hear that from time to time from servers who are probably patronizing me into thinking what I ordered was great. But Marilu seemed pretty passionate about the meatloaf when she was describing it to us.
We were famished when Marliu brought our meatloaf entrees out to us. When she sat the plates down in front of us, John and I just started to laugh. John said, "There is NO WAY that I'll be able to finish all of this!"
Marilu said, "Well, good luck and enjoy!"
The meatloaf was buried under a mountain of crispy onion straws. The meatloaf was sitting on a mound of potatoes that had been squished down because of the sheer size and weight of the slab of meatloaf. The tomato/mushroom demi-glace had been drizzled on top of the meatloaf before the onion straws were placed on top. Pushing some of the onion straws away from the meatloaf, I cut in to the thick cut of ground beef, ground veal and ground sausage. The first taste exploded in my mouth. Oh, my God! Was it good! I know there are ways to make meatloaf more appealing, but this was absolutely fabulous.
I'm also a sucker for onion straws and the ones at Ram Restaurant and Brewery were pretty damned good. They had a nice somewhat spicy outer layer to the straws and it was very flavorful and went well with the meatloaf.
Have you ever looked at something and said, "There's no way I can eat this." Then you end up eating nearly the whole thing? That happened with both John and me with the meatloaf at Ram. John said, "Great choice on the meatloaf, my friend. This is just excellent." I just couldn't stop eating it - the next thing I knew I only had a couple bites left of the meatloaf with a few onion straws left over. I only had a couple bites of the potatoes - I didn't get much of a sense of any cheese in the potatoes - but that's OK. I was concentrating on the meatloaf. I was able to get the last two bites down my gullet. I was so stuffed, but, OH! It was so good.
Marilu came over to do the obligatory, "Save room for any dessert?"
I said, "Oh, God! Are you crazy? There was enough food to feed an elementary school here!" She laughed and said she'd bring the check. She did a fine job taking care of us this particular evening.
I guess I forgot how good the food was at Ram Restaurant and Brewery. I've been staying more and more at the Hilton Garden Inn just up the road and I think that I could easily make the Ram as a "go-to" spot for food and watching sports when I'm staying in the area. I wouldn't say the beer is great - it's good for what it is. But the wide variety of food they offer at Ram Restaurant and Brewery can appeal to just about everyone. I do want to try the blackened fish tacos at some point, and they did have a couple interesting sandwiches and burgers on the menu, too. While I do abhor chain restaurants, Ram is small enough that they don't compromise their culinary standards, but big enough to be a known entity for good food and good beer.