The Thrills of Jeri’s Grill

Lots of diner cooks sling their hash with heads down and a rusty frown.

Why do you think those folks in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” are not looking in the kitchen?

They might see Charlie Trotter.

Jim Doane is not that kind of cook.

For the past four years Doane has been behind the counter at the 24-hour Jeri’s Grill, 4357 N. Western Ave. [(773) 604-8775, no website.] Jeri’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Anice DiPiero opened the restaurant and today it is operated by his son Frank.

Doane smiles a lot, he talks to customers when he’s not too busy and he thinks up strange recipes like Jeri’s popular “Mop.”

The Mop consists of two biscuits and gravy over hash browns, topped by deep fried bologna. It is served only between midnight and 6 a.m., in order to “mop” up a night of drinking. Jeri’s debuted the “Mop” ($6.95) about six months ago. Doane is now on the 6 a.m.- 2 p.m. shift.

He made me a “Mop” the other morning and it was quite good, especially the sharp high-quality bologna. And I hadn’t even been drinking.

“I was watching a travel show about the Dominican Republic,” Doane said. “Deep fried salami is big there. Biscuits and gravy are huge for us. They’re fast and easy to go. So I thought I’d try this.”

Doane, 39, is up for anything.

He moved from Detroit to Chicago to attend the public writing program at Second City.

So at Jeri’s, you get jokes with your yolks.

“This place is a sea of humanity,” Doane said. “Mainly for storytelling.” He looked over his right shoulder at a sign that said, “Cash Only.” He continued, “There’s always one drunky who can’t figure that part out. A guys sits in that corner and says, ‘I have no money on my person.’ I say, ‘Pay me something.’ He says, ‘I don’t know what you want from me.’ Then he does this drunk waddle-walk outside. I go behind him and let him think I’m chasing him for half a block. It was worth five bucks just to watch him run.

“Just a week ago we had a body builder come in. He had a Mop. Then he had a three by three (three pancakes and three eggs, $4.50). Then he finished it off with the homemade peach cobbler ($2.50). This was early in the morning. He was going right back to work out. He was loading carbohydrates. It was his first time in and now it’s his new favorite place.”

Photos by D. Hoekstra

A Michigan native, Doane had been the food and beverage manager at the great Majestic Theatre in Detroit. “The Majestic Cafe was hipster chow,” he said. “We had a lot of balsamic reductions, things on sticks. We had Sgt. Pepperoni’s pizza. It’s a total of six bars, including the bowling alley. The bowling alley is celebrating 100 years this year. It’s actually the oldest bowling alley in America. It’s been in the same family since 1913.”

The White Stripes made their major debut in 1998 at the Magic Stick, upstairs from the bowling alley. “Jack (White; a.ka. John Anthony Gillis) was a pin chaser,” he said. “Meg (White) rented out the shoes.” [In 1997 they had appeared in an open mike night at the Gold Dollar in Detroit.]

Doane did not bring Detroit cuisine like the Coney Island to Jeri’s Grill. “Chicago perfected the hot dog,” he said. “They have a little work to do on pizza. I don’t like the thick crust. I like a thin New York slice. I want to be able to fold it in half. But I wouldn’t dare import a Coney.”

Doane wound up at Jeri’s in 2009 because he moved into the Lincoln Square neighborhood. “They had a (help-wanted) sign up and I said, ‘That’ll make ends meet,” he said. “And I’m still here. Frank is the best restaurant boss I’ve had. A lot of restaurant owners are psychopaths and Frank understands the business better than most of them.”

Traditional fare like corn beef hash and French Toast are popular times at Jeri’s.

Ham off the bone has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 1963. Jeri’s makes their own soups every afternoon, which include chicken noodle, beef barley, corn tortilla and split pea (cup, $2.25; bowl is $2.80. big bowl $4.15, a quart $5.75).

The warm and friendly vibe is puncuated by small yellow business cards by the front door offer bowling at the Waveland Bowl complimentary of Jeri’s.

In a separate conversation DiPiero said, “When 9/11 happened we were here. We have no television. No radio. No internet. (There is a jukebox along the east wall.) We didn’t know what happened. A customer came in and told us. I still didn’t grasp it until I went home. But he said, ‘If the world is coming to an end I wanted to be at Jeri’s Grill.’ And this guy came with his family. I’ll never forget that.”

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