Recently I discovered a local restaurant, Marion Street Market (110 South Marion Street-708.725.7200), after having been invited to an evening gathering with others from the press and media. Located one block from the Metra and a few minutes from the expressway, this inviting restaurant with a fire crackling in the fireplace and a guitarist singing in the background was a place with neighborhood appeal. Although Marion Street Market has been in existence for awhile, something special had occurred during the summer.
That “something” is actually a “someone”, Chef/Partner Steve Chiappetti, who has been at the helm since mid 2014 and is turning Marion Street Market into a destination fit for wine aficionados, cheese lovers and foodies. He burst on the scene in 1997 when he was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef Award and was named Wine Spectator’s Rising Star Chef. Chiappetti has opened, among others, Mango, Grapes, Rhapsody, Cafe le Coq, and Viand, all highly acclaimed restaurants in the Chicago area. He has been on the Today Show and has had stints as a Disney Food & Wine Festival Chef. Chiappetti shared that his most memorable honor was to represent the United States in the Bocuse d’Or, one of the most prestigious international cooking competitions in Europe.
The wine list is smartly curated and I enjoyed a glass of crisp Sancerre then a savory Pinot Noir from Burgundy. After a luscious Espana Americana cheese flight, I was served tasting dishes of curried blue water shrimp, seared diver sea scallops, and lobster macaroni and cheese. A don’t-miss-this dessert of cinnamon and sugar donut holes with cappuccino mousse and chocolate sauce was a sweet treat at the end. All told, Marion Street Market with its adjacent wine shop, large cheese selection, and varied, affordable menu felt comfortable and cozy. It exuded a real neighborhood feel although I live fifteen miles away.
There is a vast amount of biographical information about Chiappetti on the internet and in food and wine articles, but I wanted more than facts. That night, I had a chance to chat briefly with Steve Chiappetti to learn about his mission at Marion Street Market followed with a second helping of conversation a few days later to understand more.
Following are excerpts from our Q&A.
GE What is your mission at Marion Street Market?
SC: We want it to be something for the neighborhood. We aim to create an environment where the neighborhood can feel it is a source to get reliable product and a great experience. We want customers to know products are there for reasons that you can’t get elsewhere.
GE: How have you changed the menu?
SC: Marion Street Market went from a small plates menu to really focusing more on meals and not just snacks. I elevated the dining experience by incorporating more completed dishes.
GE: Do you feel that your work here is a work in progress?
SC: Every day we cook in the kitchen is a work in progress. It’s like creating a painting. It is always evolving. It is an organic business and we have to evolve based on the product we get, the customers who walk in the door, etc.
GE: I notice that comfort food and simplicity are at the core of the menu…
SC: It’s about farm-to-table. The ingredients are simple and food should be made simply around it. I appreciate the ingredients on their own and simple, comfort foods relate to that.
GE: How important are locally grown foods to you?
SC: It is the mantra that we live and breathe at Marion Street. Our goal is to remain 100% local and stay that way when possible.
GE: What is your favorite comfort food at Marion Street?
SC: The fried chicken!!
GE: How do you curate the high caliber of cheeses and wines?
SC: I have assistance on the wine/beverage side from Heather Yargus, our Beverage Manager and assistance from April Reed, our Cheese Monger. I understand the product we are selling but the staff adds value; they are more focused.
GE: You’re very humble and give plenty of credit to others. Who or what has influenced you at Marion Street?
SC: The young talent on the team is inspiring. For instance, April Reed is very young and new to the business, yet she shows you how much passion she has for the product. It is refreshing to see someone taking such an elaborate passion in something so simple, like cheeses.
GE: What have your restaurant experiences taught you at this point in your career?
SC: Listen to your staff. Listen to your customer. Keep the business side in mind and meet the needs of the owner.
GE: How does Marion Street Market reflect you?
SC: Your restaurant is about who you are and what you do. We work with a family business and my background is similar, with my family owning Chiappetti Lamb & Veal.
When I moved to Chicago from Chapel Hill, North Carolina many years ago, I thought of Oak Park, Illinois as a faraway place, a town that was not “Chicago”… but not a suburb either. My perception was that this sleepy village with its Prairie style bungalows, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, and mom and pop coffee shops dotting the landscape was dangerously close to the town of Cicero, the land of Al Capone and gangsters. It’s true: I was naïve.
After decades of living in the Chicago area, my perception has changed and I have grown up. Oak Park, a thriving village ten miles due west from Chicago, continues to attract tourists and residents to notable Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, yet now boasts a vibrant arts district, boutique shopping venues and unique restaurants that have an eclectic following. Easily accessible on the Metra Rail System or CTA, it only takes a few visits to realize that Oak Park is a neighborhood, a quietly vibrant pocket of culture and lifestyle.
The next time you are in Chicago take a respite from the hustle and bustle. Enjoy a delicious glass of two of wine and a savory then sweet dish of comfort food at Marion Street Market in nearby Oak Park. Listen to music. Sit at the bar. You’ll feel part of the neighborhood.
Cheers! ~ Cindy