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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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