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Chef Mark Chmielewski

by Rachel Dushkewich March 21st, 2013 | Chef Interviews
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chicagoIf you’re in Chicago and looking for a wonderful dining experience – whether a leisurely dinner or an on-the-go lunch – you absolutely cannot miss Ovie Bar and Grill! Located directly underneath the Ogilvie Transportation center, Ovie can provide for any and all of your dining needs; whether you’re looking for an intimate meal in their dining room, a grab-and-go lunch before catching your train, or even catering services, Chef Mark Chmielewski will exceed all of your expectations! The best seasonal, local ingredients ensure the food is exceptional, and a relaxed, contemporary atmosphere immediately makes diners feel welcome and at home. I had a chance to speak to Chef Chmielewski to learn more about him and his restaurant!

RD: What culinary training and experience helped shape your technique?

CC: My professional culinary training began at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After CIA, I stayed in New York City for about seven years before moving to Chicago in 1994 and haven’t left since.

RD: What inspired the concept for Ovie Bar and Grill?

CC: The concept for Ovie Bar & Grill was the vision of my former business partner Luigi Millacardi, who passed away in November. We had talked extensively over the last five years about working together and Ovie was the result of that collaboration. Luigi was instrumental in the concept of Ovie, so we decided to honor him by giving back. Starting in March Ovie is featuring a charity sandwich of the month with the Luigi Panini. For each sandwich sold, $5.00 will be donated to the Respiratory Health Association throughout the entire month. Each month will be featuring a new charity. As far as what inspired the style inside Ovie, we were heavily influenced by our location inside Ogilvie Transportation Center. When you walk in, you will notice the slight references to trains from the early century; it’s a wonderful marriage of that era’s style along with today’s contemporary aesthetics.

RD: You have a dining room, a full-service bar, a grab-and-go lunch, a café, and a catering service all under one roof! How do you balance so many different services?

CC: Ovie wouldn’t be what it is without the amazing team behind it all. This really is a collaborative effort on everyone’s part to give our guests the best dining experience possible. The different services we offer are just another reflection of that. We understand that because we service to a lot of commuters, we have to be sure we meet their different needs. We’re able to provide all these service because of the extensive planning on our end.

RD: What kind of atmosphere can diners expect from Ovie Bar and Grill?

CC: Being in a train station, they are often surprised by how welcoming it is. We’ve placed a lot of emphasis in creating a contemporary relaxed atmosphere that includes a large 40-seat bar and a warm and inviting dining room area.

RD: How would you describe the overall vibe of your menu?

CC: Our menu features a lot of seasonal ingredients, without any of the added camouflage. You will see a lot of comfort food items that have become a signature at Ovie, like our baked truffle mac & cheese with ditalini pasta and Parmesan, provolone, fontina, and Gruyere cheese. Our braised short ribs feature lemon-back pepper gnocchi and roasted root vegetables.

RD: Do you have a favorite dish currently on your menu?

CC: We just rolled out our new spring dishes featuring rhubarb, and the spring flatbread with rhubarb, Laquercia prosciutto and baby arugula has to be my favorite right now. We decided to incorporate rhubarb because it isn’t something you typically see featured in many menus and yet has such an amazing flavor. We’ll be using it in our honey-rhubarb BBQ sauce and our rhubarb-strawberry crisp; we have some exciting dishes in line for spring. A house favorite is our Reuben sandwich. The corned beef we smoke in house really makes this sandwich amazing. When we created the Reuben for our menu, we really didn’t want to cut any corners. This sandwich is piled high with in-house smoked corned beef and served with large, crispy rosemary potatoes. It’s a comfort food that guest just can’t get enough of.

RD: Ovie Bar and Grill is located directly below the tracks of the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago. How does this location influence your restaurant?

CC: Location is everything: it really does influence the decisions we make. We offer a large variety of sharable items for the commuters coming in for a drink and a bite to eat before catching the next train. Our grab-and-go lunch service caters to those coming in from the surrounding suburbs heading into work. We also understand that Ovie is oftentimes the first place people go before an evening out on the town. We’re located a block away from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and within close proximity to the United Center, so our dining experience has to be exceptional.

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