HIGHWOOD – Before Marco’s Northside Grill opened in Highwood, owner Marco Santi and close childhood friend Tom Garrity from The Toadstool Pub next door decided to open a “magic door” connecting the establishments.
“This is one of those things when the planets lined up,” said Santi, a Highland Park native who currently resides in Highwood. Las Tres Hermanas was formerly housed on the site where Marco’s stands today at 329 Waukegan Avenue.
Santi explained Garrity had been in The Toadstool Pub for five years, but he’s never had a kitchen. Marco’s Northside Grill and The Toadstool Pub were under the same roof, and the only thing that was separating them was a wall, so they asked the city if they could create a “magic door.”
“We wanted to provide the pub patrons with a food opportunity,” said Santi. “The alcohol doesn’t really change hands, but we do provide the food service for the pub.”
Santi described Garrity as “the Bloody Mary King,” as The Toadstool Pub has won the First Place Bloody Mary Festival People’s Choice award for six consecutive years.
Prior to The Toadstool Pub’s July 30th win, Garrity brought his new business partner with him when he appeared on the Mancow Morning Show on 97.9 FM, The Loop.
“The Bloody Mary Festival has created a big buzz around the North Shore, and Matthew Erich “Mancow” Muller caught wind of this and wanted to talk to Tommy,” said Santi. Garrity appeared on the show last year, and this year he brought Santi with him.
“Mancow kept us in the studio for over two hours, and in between insults and funny jokes he talked about Bloody Mary Fest, The Toadstool Pub and Marco’s Northside Grill, and it was a great thing for us, and for Highwood,” he said. Garrity brought Bloody Marys and Santi brought hamburger sliders and shrimp cocktails. They were thrilled to be there.
Santi opened his dream restaurant in December 2016 that he likens to a Wisconsin Supper Club with New Orleans Gulf Coast flavors. His mom is from Louisiana, and Marco’s serves a New Orleans chicken sandwich, a jumbo gulf shrimp cocktail and different beers from New Orleans.
Marco’s Northside Grill will throw a big Mardi Gras party where they serve a giant vat of jambalaya. Marco’s also does special events, private parties, and carryouts.
The bar is a focal point in the restaurant that was crafted from a live white pine tree slab. The creation of the bar was a family effort.
“My cousin from Northwest Wisconsin is a carpenter who works in construction in the countryside and he suggested building the bar out of one of the white pine trees,” said Santi. After he received the raw slab, Santi’s brother-in-law (another experienced carpenter) took over, and he sanded it and applied lacquer.
“It came out beautiful and I wanted a lot of wood and a rustic feel,” he added.
Santi spent years as a soybean trader, but always wanted to open up a restaurant. As a teen, he worked at Del Rio’s in Highwood, and continued working at restaurants after his 9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. shift ended at the Chicago Board of Trade.
About five years ago, Santi said he decided to dedicate himself full-time to starting his own restaurant, when his best friend since childhood Andy Bluhm reached out to Steve Lombardo who owns The Gibson Group. Santi worked six days a week over 10 hours a day without pay while he trained in Gibson’s kitchen, and the back office.
“I got a world class education from a world class organization,” he said. “That’s why Marco’s has a signature burger. “We do a wonderful blend of 100 percent black angus mixed with ground beef and brisket, and people rave about our burgers,” he added.
Santi said he wanted Marco’s Northside Grill to be a casual place where people could “let their hair down, and order that supper club classic shrimp cocktail, a burger and a vodka tonic to wash it down with an up north feel. I owe it all to Andy and Steve Lombardo and his group.”
Santi explained that he enjoyed going with his parents to Charlie Beinlich’s in Northbrook and wanted to be compared to them.
“Why not shoot for the best? Charlie Beinlich’s has been thriving for 65 years and they’ve been a driving force for Marco’s Northside Gill,” he said.
Santi said Marco’s Northside Grill tries to reach out to everyone from the ages of three to 103. The menu also includes: classic grilled cheese, chicken tenders, and hot dogs. For healthy offerings, Marco’s Northside Grill serves fresh salads, homemade soups and grilled chicken. The dressings and shrimp cocktail sauce are made from scratch.
“It’s an amazing privilege to run after something for so many years, and to say that I have such a great group of support around me every day,” said Santi. “My name’s on the front door and that’s about it. I can’t do it without all of the great people who have been on my team.”
Marco’s Northside Grill is located at 329 Waukegan Avenue, Highwood. For more information call: 847/748-8557.