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What's Up Magazine

The Taste: Restaurateur Mark Chew

Nov 25, 2014 09:00AM ● By Cate Reynolds
Welcome to the resurrected dining column, “Taste,” which explores the local culinary scene with quick-take restaurant reviews, restaurateur interviews, and foodie topics of interest. This month we speak with Mark Chew, owner of Marco’s Bar and Grille in St. Michaels.

Speaking with Mark is an experience, to put it lightly. Full of life, fun, and humor, he radiates passion for food, for cooking, for entertaining, and for people. His restaurant is a hot spot, not only for the food (a mix of Asian, seafood, ribs, and smoked meats), but because of Chew and his fun-loving personality. A man with an interesting past, Chew shares with us his philosophy on pleasing people, his love for Italian food, and dining out.

How did you get your start in the culinary world? What was your first restaurant job?

I’m from Vietnam. I had a food stand when I was in an orphanage at seven or eight years old. I sold ice cream at six. I always liked customer service. In the food business, you’ll never be hungry. When I was in this country, at age 13 I worked as a dishwasher. I just watch what they do. I love the pace, the adrenaline. I always have food in my hands. I was young and poor and knew I’d never be hungry.

 Marco’s is a fusion restaurant, mixing different cuisines. How do you decide what to serve?

My specialty is Italian food. My first restaurant was Italian in Wilmington, Delaware. I hired a 60-year-old Italian woman who taught me how to cook. I moved to Kennett Square in Pennsylvania and got involved in mushrooms. I was known as the King of Mushrooms. I’ve run a steakhouse, a piano bar, and a sports bar.

What is your favorite item on the menu? What would you personally order over and over again?

I love broccoli rabe. I love pasta. I say I’m Italian from the neck down. Anything Italian, anything pasta. My wife likes pho, we go through 90 gallons a week. We wanted to have a fun restaurant. People are so versatile, there’s something for everyone. But I love spaghetti and pasta.

What is the most popular item on your menu?

Crab cakes. Crab cakes and rockfish. Oysters, anything with seafood. We have a smoker and now we do ribs, half chickens. People eat with their eyes and their noses; they eat by smell. The smoker with the ribs and half chickens are popular. But definitely the crab cakes.

What do you consider to be more important: local ingredients or organic ingredients?

Local. Corn, tomatoes, produce. The Eastern Shore has the best local produce.

When dining out in the area, what is your favorite place?

There are two. When I go out with my wife, we like Vietnamese restaurants. I love to order a lot of appetizers, five or six appetizers, and sit at the bar. There’s a place in Virginia in Eaton Square. My wife does the girl thing—get her nails done, go shopping— and I eat. We usually do it in the fall. And in Easton, we love Alfredo’s. I go when I can, I always order the veal parm. Those are my two favorites, anything with Asian food and anything Italian.

—Kimberly Cooper