Drive Right Up

August 2020 View more

For a chef preparing to open a new restaurant, the moment when final permits arrive and you’re cleared to open for business is the pinnacle of excitement. For Marco Conte of Marco’s Kitchen (26 S. LaGrange Rd., 708.603.2129,, that anxiously awaited moment came just as the pandemic hit.

“All the restaurants were closed,” says Conte, who grew up cooking in his family’s Italian restaurants in Detroit before moving to Chicago in 2004 to work as executive chef of Cafe Amano, a French-Italian bistro in downtown Elmhurst. “It took me about a week to regroup and we decided we would start doing curbside dinners.”

The original concept for Marco’s Kitchen was a global menu featuring fare inspired by Conte’s travels, from Italian to Mexican to Middle Eastern. “When I was in Alexandria, Egypt, a few years ago, I jumped into a taxi and stayed with [the driver] the entire day and had dinner with his family,” Conte says. The curbside offerings are keeping in the same spirit and amassed a loyal following over the spring and early summer.


Every Sunday evening Conte releases menus for dinner pickups later in the week; diners can call the restaurant starting Monday morning to make their reservation and prepay. Each three-course dinner has a specific theme and a set price (usually $40 to $50 for two people, $80 to $100 for four). Past hits include a Bourbon Street dinner with shrimp étouffée, a French meal with lobster bisque, and a Spanish feast with assorted tapas. Wine add-ons (most around $20 a bottle) are an easy way to complete curbside meals without an added stop at the liquor store.

The Mexican meal I ordered mid-June was an impressive value for $40. Housemade tortilla chips provided the perfect crispy scoop for salmon ceviche with diced cucumber and tomato. A fruit salad of sliced papaya, pineapple, mango, and watermelon came with a side of chili-lime salt for sprinkling.

The main course, slightly spicy enchiladas stuffed with shreds of roasted chicken, paired well with sides of creamy pinto beans and grilled spears of zucchini and yellow squash. For dessert, cinnamon rice pudding was a comforting treat. Portions don’t look huge at first, but there were plenty of leftovers for a lunch the next day.

Conte and his staff bake their own breads in a massive oven that was left in the kitchen from a previous restaurant concept. “I was amazed when the technician went in there and told me the oven was built in 1928,” Conte says. “He said that the oven was designed as a workhorse oven to bake huge amounts of bread and designed to run 24 hours a day. [It’s] insulated with powdered seashells, which holds high heat temperatures the best. The inside of the oven can be at 650 degrees and the outside is cool to the touch. The technology from that slot in time is amazing.” Past creations have included a seeded Italian loaf served with a charcuterie platter for Father’s Day and rustic country bread for a Napa Valley–themed meal.


At full capacity Marco’s Kitchen seats about 40 guests. As of press time, Conte was making plans for what service will look like with indoor dining. “We’ve measured the dining room and we’ll open with five tables that will seat four guests each,” he says. “For the first month or so, we’re going to try to maximize our seating by trying to set and seat tables every two hours.”

It will be a welcome shift for Conte to be able to offer the full a la carte menu that he originally envisioned for his restaurant. Whatever you order, be sure to save room. “We are really big on dessert,” he says. Though Marco’s Kitchen may have made its debut at a challenging time, this sounds like a sweet ending, indeed.