Tucked away on Lyon Street, neighborhood establishments like Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Baking Co. and Lyon Street Cafe serve the many denizens of Heritage Hill and Midtown. All business owner Kameel Chamelly didn’t have on his roster was a full-service restaurant.
So, Chamelly teamed up with chef/owner Matt Overdevest to open Marcona on Lyon, serving up high-end, modern Mediterranean cuisine in a cozy, social atmosphere. The food is uniquely impressive, so we sat down with Overdevest to ask about what makes Marcona tick.
Tell us a little about what’s going on here.
Well, the original basis for the restaurant is if the region borders the Mediterranean at any points, its cuisine is fair game as far as we’re concerned. But all of those dishes won’t necessarily be on the menu all at once.
And the Mediterranean is so vast, so are those broad strokes challenging to work with?
Maybe not in the way you’d think. For example, many of these countries and regions use similar seasonings and in different combos, you come up with these distinct flavors. We can use the same four ingredients and make them Moroccan, Turkish and Spanish just by taking those ingredients and playing with them in subtle ways.
So, hummus can be different depending on who’s making it or what city it’s made in. For our hummus, we’re using what’s technically a black chickpea, but we call it a red chickpea. It’s an heirloom variety that we soak and cook our chickpeas from dry. And already, it’s changed since we’ve opened.
At the beginning it was dried mint, sumac and charred lemon with our base hummus. Now, it’s zhoug — which is a Yemeni hot sauce, essentially — fresh cilantro and lime, but we’ll change it and we’ll change it again depending on the season.
I imagine seasonality in the Mediterranean is a little different concept to be playing around with in West Michigan, too.
Sure, and there’s a fantasy and a reality to be reckoned with in any cuisine you’re working wit.
For instance, the baba ganoush, that’s something that we can’t really take off our menu. And this isn’t eggplant season, but the reality is, most of the eggplant that commercial restaurants use come from Mexico year-round, because they grow them year-round! And even now, they may not be perfect but they are quite good.
Any other dishes affected by seasonality?
We’re not going to be putting fresh sliced tomatoes on the menu right now, but we are going to be seeing a lot of fresh pomegranate seeds until it warms up, because they are in season and they taste better now than they do in the summer.
I’m on the board of the Fulton Street Market and while I love seasonality and I look forward to championing it during the growing season and sourcing from as many local farmers as possible, there is a reality that we have to plan around when local products are not so bountiful.
Let’s talk about being a chef-owned, or partly chef-owned, restaurant like Marcona.
You get a lot more of a perspective from the chef or the staff itself, which makes it much more of a personal experience. Like, I want our staff to be very open and inviting because that’s who I am. And so we have the open kitchen; you see what goes on here.
It’s hard to say, because each chef-owned restaurant will be different. You know, everyone has their own experience and may want their space to reflect that in different ways, but having that control, having that financial stake in a restaurant, of course puts us in a better position to convey that experience to our diners. And really, what it comes down to for me is: what we have on the menu here is what I would want to eat. And we believe what we’ve come up with is tasty enough to share with other people.
It’s an incredible menu, too. You’ve got staples on here and a fair amount of unique preparations.
Yes, and all the ingredients are good and clean and healthy without trying to be healthy, you know? There are not the health crises that exist here in the Mediterranean and it’s not because they’re limiting their food intake or whatever, it’s because they’re eating healthy food to begin with!
Anything else you want to highlight that I’m missing?
One of the other cool things that we’re doing is our beverage program here that contains a lot of things that you may not see elsewhere. For example, our wine list is entirely Mediterranean wines. In a lot of cases, these wines are not something you would find unless you were seeking them out. And they’re all very approachable, unique and fun.
Soon, there’ll be prosecco and cava and champagne, and we’ve even got a cider on draft from People’s Cider. We’ve been working with them to create a house cidre in the Spanish style that’s a little different from what you’d typically find around here. It’s very good, and — like everything we try for — it’s perfect with the food.