Just off Lake Forest’s lovely Market Square—founded in 1916, it’s the oldest planned suburban shopping center in the United States, and the heart of this North Shore suburb’s downtown—you’ll find Market House on the Square, owned by Lake Forest’s Carla and Mark Westcott. Four years ago, the couple bought out previous tenants South Gate Cafe and Bank Lane Bistro, reconceptualizing the space into its current iteration, a contemporary American restaurant.
Once a fire station, the red-brick and stucco building welcomes you into its clubby interior, highly reminiscent of an aspirational Ralph Lauren ad. The large outdoor patio beckons in warmer weather, filled with local families and regulars. The feeling is one of ease and grace.
Into this well-established mix comes chef Daniel Marquis, previously executive chef of the now-shuttered EPIC Restaurant in Chicago’s River North, and a veteran of Bin 36, Sushi Samba and Quay restaurants. Marquis is also co-owner (with brother Tim) of Mill Road Farms, a 20-acre sustainable organic farm in Sheffield, just two hours west of Chicago.
The land had been in the family for four generations but remained unutilized for many years. Six years ago, the brothers decided to take matters into their own hands—literally. “The land had been overgrown for many years, so we started from square one,” says Marquis. “It took about a year to get things up and going.”
Now that their farm business is a going concern, his brother works the farm full-time, while Marquis goes down on weekends. During the week, he’s doing what can be accurately described as farm-to-table in its truest sense, as he is able to showcase his own Mill Road Farms produce and smoked meats at Market House on the Square. “The great thing about starting everything from seed in our greenhouse is that we can grow the things that I want to use,” he says. “I write menus around the seasonality of what we’re going to grow.”
This year, that translates to 20 varietals of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, squash, all manner of herbs and greens, onions, root veggies, melons and pole beans. Although they aren’t raising their own pigs, they are curing and smoking Berkshire hog bellies as well as aging the New York strip steaks served at
Marquis relishes the close community connections he’s finding here on the North Shore and is dedicated to keeping the regular customers satisfied with a few holdovers from the last Market House menu, such as the Van Doren club ($14), tempura shrimp ($12), tomato and basil soup ($8) and the Reuben ($13). But he’s got the freedom and the flexibility to make use of his own ingredients too, which will no doubt become favorites in their own right.
Case in point: Marquis’ miso-glazed sea bass ($36), a new dish that combines both umami-laden Asian ingredients (miso, wakame seaweed, shimeji mushrooms) and impeccably farm-fresh roasted baby vegetables and microgreens in the service of deep flavor. A beet-dashi broth pulls the dish together.
Likewise, the stuffed peppers ($11) are inspired by Latin flavors and seasonal produce. The red poblano peppers are roasted, peeled and stuffed with a mixture of black quinoa, fresh sweet corn, onions and cilantro, topped with melted Oaxacan cheese and drizzled with Piquillo pepper coulis.
Changes are also on the way for the old MH Fish House space off Bank Lane; the first floor will be a prepared-food grab-and-go and will debut this fall. The upstairs space is still a work in progress. Whatever they end up going with, one thing is a given: The menu will revolve around market-fresh produce. With a farmer as your chef, we guarantee you’ll eat your veggies.