There were several Ontras around L.A. but we used to go to the one in Beverly Hills. It was on Beverly Drive at Dayton Way. Back in 1968 when comedian Pat Paulsen waged a mock presidential campaign, he held his big fund-raising dinner there and personally rang up the cash register, charging each diner 49 cents. That wasn’t that much below what you’d normally pay for a meal there.
At an Ontra, you could get a great hot turkey sandwich carved right off the bird, right in front of you. I usually did but sometimes I went for the fried chicken, especially on “all you could eat” night. As you went through the line, they gave you enough for a normal person, plus a little flag you could put on your plate to indicate you were entitled to more. They had a young lady dressed in gingham like a farm girl who strolled the cafeteria (a pretty large place) with a basket of more fried chicken and a pair of tongs. You could signal her to come over and give you another thigh or two…and it was pretty good fried chicken.
You could get great side dishes and an incredible selection of breads and other baked goods. They had all sorts of wonderful cakes, pies and other desserts but I usually went for the orange Jell-O, which was in cubes.
They don’t make cafeterias like that anymore. Hell, they don’t make cafeterias at all. The Ontras were all huge places with pretty good food at pretty good prices and I keep waiting for that kind of establishment to make a comeback. When they do, I’ll be first in line…with my tray.