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Tiny eatery in Rondout a popular spot

Debbie Miller Rita’s eldest seven children bartends often place. | TinJohansson~for Sun-Times Media

Debbie Miller, Rita’s eldest of seven children, bartends often at the place. | Tina Johansson~for Sun-Times Media

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Rita’s Lounge & Dining Room

13744 Rockland Road (Route 176), Rondout

(847) 362-0157

Open Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m., at noon on Saturdays. The kitchen is closed on Sundays.

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Updated: September 10, 2013 6:04AM

Rita’s in Rondout is a cozy, charming neighborhood eatery where friends meet and colleagues gather for lunch and dinner.

Located in an old farmhouse by the side of the main drag next to Energy Drive, the place is a family enterprise run by matriarch Rita Roewert and her seven children.

At 77, Rita is as energetic as ever waiting on tables and chatting with customers, many on a first name basis.

Much of the food served, including salads, sides, sauces and soups, is based on family recipes handed down from her mother. “If I don’t like it, it’s not on the menu. So don’t expect liver and onions,” said Rita, a woman who speaks her mind.

As a former longtime agent with JC Forney Realty in Libertyville, Rita has sold properties to some of her loyal customers and has developed friendships with many. In fact, everything hanging on the walls and the front porch is gifts brought in from customers.

Lunches are busy with her crisp summer-time salads, burgers, and soup of the day (she’s got two menus — one for spring/summer, and one for fall/winter).

A favorite salad is the “3 salad plate” including scoops of her popular chicken salad, egg salad and tuna salad accompanied by fruit. Another one is “Rita’s Mandarin Salad” including breaded chicken, mandarin oranges, chow mein noodles, cashews and Vidalia onion dressing.

Her most popular dinner food is the “honey-dipped” fried chicken and the barbecue ribs. “The meat falls off the bone,” remarked the owner.

During the winter, Rita’s offers comfort food including meatloaf, county fried steak, chili, and more homemade soup.

The fish fry featuring lake perch, cod or a combo is served three days a week — Wednesday, Friday and Saturday — and starts at lunch time. Clam chowder is also served on these days. And on Saturdays after 5 p.m., diners can get the prime rib with soup or salad and a choice of side for $19.95.

Sharon Kahly who dined with co-worker Kyle Burnette said she looks forward to the navy bean soup whenever it’s available, and she likes the reasonable prices and easy-going nature of the place. “It’s like having lunch at home,” said Kahly.

Ed Hayner of Highland Park and Pete Becker of Winthrop Harbor said they stop in for the friendly service and good food. Jim Hamilton, who lunched recently with co-workers, remarked, “This is our favorite restaurant.”

While each of Rita’s children has a hand in working at the place, her son Randy makes many of the homemade salads and sides, including his oft-ordered clam chowder. Debbie, the eldest, tends bar but also makes some of the soups, said her mom. Rick does the majority of the cooking. Kathy, Sam, Mike and Shelly are trained to handle anything here.

Located off the expressway, Rita’s restaurant serves not only locals but travelers heading to and from vacation spots. “Sometimes I’ll get kids coming back from college who make this their first stop,” said the owner.

The 140-year-old building has withstood the test of time. “I think people come here because we’re original and nostalgic and we haven’t changed a lot,” said Rita, adding that the lovely carpet in the dining room is also nearly 80 years old. “That’s when they made them good,” she said.

Rita noted she is proud of the fact that her business offers exceptionally clean restrooms, which a lot of people look for. “We get compliments from our customers about it all the time.”

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