Sometimes you’re turned onto off-the-beaten-path restaurants by friends in the know. Then there are the rare times when those restaurants find you. That was the case this afternoon, as my cousin Ken and I were selling our high quality junk at the 127 Garage sale on Hamilton Avenue in Mt. Healthy.
There was a mom and pop restaurant right across the street from our gypsy selling encampment called A & A. Ken was the first to venture in to see what they had for lunch. A discreet sign on the front of the building proclaims “Homemade Chili and Special Breakfast.” As a chili historian I was intrigued. I must have passed this place a million times as a kid and teenager, but I had never been inside. Ken came back with their menu and said he ordered their pork chop plate and that Orpha, who has been serving there for 30 years, was willing to deliver our orders across the street. I got the turkey sandwich on rye with a side of house coleslaw. It was one of the best and generously meated sandwiches I’ve had in a long time. Ken got two huge pork chops, cole slaw and a heap of hash browns that could have fed an army.
Stepping inside the restaurant is like stepping back in time to the 1960s. It’s a simple mom and pop jewel that is a welcome oasis from the chains that surround it. And long before McDonald’s offered breakfast all day, Rallis was doing it – with a side of goetta. Today, the traffic from the yard sale pickers has given him a lot of business. About six high backed booths stand in front of a horseshoe shaped counter with swivel stools in the back. Ms. Orpha Dunnock shouts orders through the pass-through window to the grill, which Rallis mans most days from 7 AM to 2 PM. If you eat at the counter, Rallis will tell you stories of his native Greece, and all the other chili pioneers, like the Kiradjieffs of Empress Chili that he palled around with back in the day.
89 year old Angelo Rallis, takes a break from the grill at A & A in Mt. Healthy.
A & A stands for Alexandra and Angelo Rallis, the couple from Kastoria, Greece, (the land of most of the Cincinnati chili pioneers) who have owned it for nearly 50 years, until Alexandra passed away seven years ago. Since the late 1950s, the couple had served Cincinnati chili, double decker sandwiches, and diner fare. They came to Cincinnati in 1955, after Angelo worked for 5 years helping the U.S. administer the Marshall Plan in Greece. After arriving in Cincinnati, he worked for his uncle, Norman Phillip Bazoff, who owned Park Chili in Northside. That’s where he learned the secret Cincinnati chili recipe that he serves on his cheese coneys, threeways, and chili cheese fries.
Rallis is 89, and says he wants to retire soon. At this point, why retire. But if you want a taste of an endangered, but authentic Greek-owned Cincinnati chili parlor, I’d recommend you hurry fast to A & A’s on Hamilton Avenue in Mt. Healthy. You wont be disappointed.