Updated and Improved: Market House on the Square

Lake Forest’s South Gate Café just reopened as Market House on the Square.

New owners, new décor, new chef, new menu. And it’s worth your attention.

James Beard Award-nominated Chef Dominic Zampano was brought in from Umami Moto in Milwaukee to serve up a new vision for one of Lake Forest’s favorite locations. He provides a fresh spin on many of the dishes we grew up loving (tater tots, beef Stroganoff, and yes, Hamburger Helper – or Hamburger Help Me, as it’s called here), substituting lots of locally sourced, organic ingredients for the box and the bag.

And it’s not only the menu that got a facelift; the interior has been revisited as well. Wisely, the iconic patio facing Market Square remains intact. It has long been a strong summer selling point.

About those Tater Tots ($9)… order them. Stuffed with Gouda cheese, lightly fried and served with a spicy ranch dressing, these are addictive little potato puffs. Shrimp and Grits ($13), which featured plump grilled shrimp and andouille sausage on a bed of cheesy, yummy grits, hit the spot.

market house grits

Gazpacho ($5) proved uninspiring, and the Crabcake ($12), though plump and crabby, had a mushier texture than I prefer, but I did appreciate its tangled shaved scallion fascinator. Opt instead for Amidei’s Mercandito Salad, featuring super fresh, local veggies. I longed to order the Bacon Cheeseburger Eggrolls ($9), but ran out of table space.

market house crabcakes

Fish entrees are clearly a strong suit for the kitchen. We loved the Ginger Steamed Salmon ($22), so moist and tender, served beautifully on a bed of quinoa salad with pomegranate and orange, with an artful squiggle of tahini dressing to tie the plate together.

market house salmon

Zampano’s American “Bouillabaisse” ($26), chockfull of briny clams and shrimp, Lake Superior whitefish, corn, sausage and potatoes in a flavorful tomato broth was a wonder, and we certainly appreciated the grilled chunks of bread for dragging through the juices.

market house bouilliabaisse

I also loved the Lake Superior Whitefish ($19) in another guise, a pan-seared, crispy-skinned filet atop summer succotash (corn, fava beans, and red bell pepper), although I couldn’t quite understand the pools of marmalade on the plate’s corners.

market house whitefish

For you meat lovers, the Hanger Steak ($22) was decent but unexciting, despite the best efforts of the salsa verde. Next time, I’d opt instead for the Meat Loaf ($19) or maybe the Crispy Pig Sandwich ($12). They also had several interesting vegetarian choices. All breads are made in house.

Got room for dessert? There are several “Mix & Match Minis” ($2 each), bites designed for your sweet tooth without the commitment of a full dessert, like brownies, cookies, tiny tarts (try the peach lavender) and an ice cream sandwich. But the Candy Bar ($6), layers of crispy, sweet, chocolatey and creamy, was the clear winner.

So pull up a chair, order a gin and tonic (extra limes) and enjoy the view. People watching is definitely at a premium here in Lake Forest, where everyone dresses to be seen. Happily, the food is now as interesting as its surroundings.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Market House on the Square
655 Forest Avenue
Lake Forest