Thursday, July 17, 2008

What's Local Oak Park - Marion Street Cheese Emporia

Remember this post? Have you been waiting as patiently as me for the expanded Marion Street Cheese store/cafe/restaurant in downtown Oak Park? Your wait is almost, kinda over. I will tell you the bad part first, then the dissenting part, and last the gushing part.

The bad part. About a year ago, the folks at Marion Street Cheese in Oak Park announced plans to expand their cheese shop into a space on the other side of the tracks from their current location. In the space of the old space would go a genuine butcher shop, one specializing in local meats. Cheese shops the world has. Butcher shops are few these days, and one specializing in local meats; that the Chicago world needs (bad). That part of the operation awaits.

The dissenting opinion. I visited the new Marion Street Cheese yesterday with my wife. In a nit-picking mood, she complained of missing local. "Why Vermont maple syrup" (instead of locally sourced syrup.) "I think they have more cheeses from Massachusetts than Wisconsin" (I think she's wrong on that count.) "I thought the gourmet products did not have any Midwestern feel to it--they had the peanut butter [Cream Nut] but that was it. I want grains." She ended her diatribe, "I'm ready to go there today."

After all, it is the only area store nearby for her crack, Trader's Point Creamery Orchard Trio yogurt. One item of many local. We did not see the produce displayed, but we ran into Chef Mike on his way in from the market. He took us into the kitchen and showed us his bounty (some to be used in their recipes); apricots and peaches, currants, bunches of white and pink French breakfast radishes that looked like a coral reef creature; apples (believe it or not) and more, we did not peek into every bag. Mike sold us the apricots at a very reasonable 35 cents each.

Reasonable. I could not, at all, believe it, when they rang up my fresh made, already one of the best local, pan au chocolate, at $1.33. I said to my wife, that maybe I should have mentioned to Chef Mike to increase the size of the item and raise the price. She shushed me on that one. That, I think she's right. Getting back to the local though, the chaucuterie case was filled with local hog. Four or five versions of La Quercia products, including stuff I had not seen before like local lardo. They had Nueske bacon in a slab the size of an old phone book. They carry local eggs too. Cheese, I guess the only place that I might agree with my wife would be on the cheddars. I saw Grafton cheddar, but no high end Wisconsin. I know Marion's carried BleuMont's stuff before. I'm betting it will be there soon. Still, throw me a bone, a Widmer or something. Still, the local goat got its day, with several offerings from Prairie Fruit Farms and Capriole. There's notable Wisconsin names like Sarvecchio (becoming one of my favorite local cheeses, read nice things about it here) and Roth Kase. Who can complain when this is the only place I've seen locally carrying Zingerman Creamery's exceptional cheeses--including the best cream cheese I know.

Like I was saying, Chef Mike's haul from the market (Green City) was partially going to use in the kitchen. We thumbed through the menus, breakfast, lunch AND dinner, and it seemed all good. Summer be damned, I am looking forward to the raclette, a fancy way of saying cheese melted on potatoes. And the aforementioned pan au chocolate showed consideable skill already lurking.

I'm saving the best for last. Of course I would be ga-ga over a store with so much local. The four beers on tap for the restaurant: Bells, Goose Island, Two Brothers and 3 Floyds, etc. What most blew me away, however, was the space. I think it was Mike, it may have been his cohort, Eric, that I said, "I can see why it took you so long to open." I have a hard enough time coming up with descriptors for good food, I'm at a loss for words for incredible design. What I said yesterday on LTHForum is that the place reminds me of Vegas, and I do not mean that to mean slick or artificial or faux. If you've been to Vegas in recent years, seen any of the Adam Tihany or David Rockwell conceived works, you would recognize Marian Street Cheese's new store. Serious work and serious capital went into this space to great effect. Again, let me backtrack, it is not Trump-y, show-off-y big bucks design. The burnished golds were not gold leaf.

Think they'd add a poker room for me. I could easy while away the hours, munching on Prosciutto Americano and other local faves when hunger strikes.

Marion Street Cheese Market
100 S. Marion, Oak Park
Open every day, 9AM-9PM

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