Peering in the glass door, black-and-white photos of cityscapes hang on crisp yellow walls, and small lamps shed light onto each table. You can hear chatter within—at tables, among tables, between customers and staff, as everyone seems to know everyone else.
Walk inside. You’ll be glad you accepted the invitation.
“Thanks for stopping in,” says the guy behind the counter, who makes time for a reporter while cooking up generous portions of grilled meats and seafood and simultaneously chatting with patrons whom he knows by name.
That man is Fred Baskin, the owner of Uptown Chicago Grill, a family-style, neighborhood restaurant that has been serving Harrisburg for six years.
In a nutshell, the Chicago Grill is a classic neighborhood joint, one of those places cherished by locals, but a mystery to many outsiders, who may know of it only by seeing its sign as they speed through the light at the corner of N. 2nd and Maclay during their daily rush out of the city.
“We depend on a lot of regulars,” said Baskin, who often identifies checks not by table number, but by scribbling the first names of his customers on them. “We get a lot of the Midtown folks coming over for Saturday brunch. It’s all the same faces. Saturday is a lot of fun for us.”
Baskin knows how to keep it good, simple and inexpensive. With an expansive menu of baby back ribs, fish, pasta, steak, burgers, pulled-pork barbeque, traditional grilled chicken and big entrée salads, there’s something for every kind of food mood. And it won’t break your wallet either.
“You can’t fool the customer,” he said. “You try to cut costs wherever you can without raising prices. Keep your quality, save expenses otherwise.”
A Good Choice
Baskin knows a thing or two about running a restaurant. He took his first food service job soon after graduating from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
“I went to work for a restaurant chain called Black-Eyed Pea,” he said. “I met with their recruiter my senior year and went to work with them right out of college.”
In 2000, he moved to the area to operate an independent restaurant in Mechanicsburg. After eight years working there, he took over the Chicago Grill.
So, why Harrisburg?
“The opportunity that was presented to me was in Harrisburg. Business was here, so we came to Harrisburg. I wasn’t looking anywhere else.”
And it seems that the city was a good choice to call home.
“Midtown is really exploding,” he said. “There’s a lot of new folks. Younger professionals seem to flock to Midtown. With the excitement of Midtown’s growth, we’re just going to hope to ride that wave. And as it keeps growing and coming around, we want to grow with it.”
Shortly after I arrived on a recent visit, I cozied up to a feast.
I first tried a grilled, juicy steak, which sat beside a colorful pasta blend of feta, spinach and tomato pasta bathed in aioli sauce. I then sampled the grilled salmon—tender and moist—topped off by a helping of freshly homemade seafood bisque.
Ice clinked in my fresh Arnold Palmer iced tea, a perfectly cool refreshment after a long day. The banana pudding was a unique and light dessert, providing closure to a delicious meal.
“Our menu is grilled to order,” Baskin said. “Our biggest seller is the baby back ribs. They are outstanding. And the voodoo salmon. Our entree salads are pretty big, as well.”
Baskin said that the menu, though large, changes often to cater to customer tastes.
“As seasons change, we tweak the menu with specials and seasonal items,” he said.
Booth or table? For here or to go? It’s up to you.
“To-go orders are a big part of our business,” Baskin explained. “We are a family-operated business. We appreciate our guests and regulars. We try to provide everything they like.”
Can’t decide between the ribs and the steak? Simple. “We can do half and half too if you can’t decide between two meals.”
The restaurant also offers self-catering.
“We provide everything, and you pick it up. We give you all the equipment: warmers, chafers, paper products. Then you set it up and bring it back. It eliminates all of those catering charges you would normally have. It also eliminates us having to keep a staff for that, as well.”
The staff at Uptown Chicago Grill is exceptional, knowledgeable and friendly. “All of our employees are long term,” Baskin said with a smile. “They’re all cross-trained, so everybody can chip in anywhere. Since they are long term, they all work well together.”
With its huge, affordable menu, family-friendly atmosphere and prime location, Uptown Chicago Grill may someday lose its reputation as the best “hidden spot” in Harrisburg. Regardless, the emphasis will always be on the neighborhood and the regulars.
“Working as an owner/operator, you are able to be more hands on and really cater to what local folks want,” said Baskin.
Uptown Chicago Grill is located at 2101 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg. Hours are Tuesday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. More information is at www.uptownchicagogrill.com or 717-233-7487.