Ravinia Festival has reinvented its recipe for dining under the stars. Start with years of planning, stir in months of new construction and renovation, and it all adds up to a new dining experience at the tony Highland Park venue. It debuts June 1.
To longtime fans of the festival, the changes to the dining pavilion building will be immediately apparent. A “wall-less” feel will welcome patrons to the first floor’s three distinct areas: the brand new Lawn Bar with its own outdoor patio, the new and larger gift shop (it’s double the size of the old one) and the expanded/remodeled Ravinia Market (food court area).
Lawn Bar features indoor and outdoor full-service bars serving small plates, appetizers and entrees, signature drinks, seafood tacos, sliders and other pub/bar favorites. The marketplace will featured more varieties of pre-packaged sandwiches, salads and beverages as well as five themed hot-food stalls, serving everything from pressed paninis to pizza , tacos, and the Smokehouse 1904, which will serve up smoked brisket, chicken, ribs (all slow-cooked for more than 20 hours) and plenty of sides. In addition, you can pick up the new “847 Burger,” Ravinia’s signature burger (named after the venue’s area code) and made with 8.47 ounces of black Angus beef, melted cheddar cheese, sliced brisket, fried pickles and barbecue sauce.
Executive chef Michael Tsonton, the toque behind all of Ravinia’s culinary world, emphasized all the food items are locally sourced and hardcore microseasonal. “You won’t see asparagus once it’s no longer available locally,” he said with a chuckle. He oversees a staff that includes six sous chefs, 50 to 60 cooks and a dish crew of 20. Thousands of food items are served daily at the venue.
The pavilion’s second floor is now home to two spaces, the established Park View fine dining restaurant and the new Tree Top and Porch. Both eateries will provide covered outdoor patio seating as well (reservations accepted at both).
“Tree Top features our reimagined chef’s table,” said Tsonton. “There’s more front-facing culinary action for the patron so they can see more people doing more things in the kitchen. It has a big patio and bar in an entirely new space. … Lawn Bar will be open throughout all the pop concert shows and that’s a first for Ravinia. So you can still get a drink at lawn level. There’s an outdoor bar as well and the menu is built to be shared.”
The dining building opened to acclaim in 2008, but since that time, Ravinia’s president and CEO Welz Kauffman says they’ve been doing a lot of listening to lifelong subscribers and daytrippers alike when it comes to what they want when it comes to food and drink.
“We’ve tripled the amount of outdoor space; we’ve doubled the amount of space upstairs that overlooking the park,” Kauffman said. “We heard from folks who wanted to be able to run and have a glass of wine and small plate during a show or before the headliner’s on stage. You can come and have a full meal here or you can pick up your entire picnic meal here. So if you don’t feel like cooking or packing that picnic, you can now get an entire smoked chicken, the sides, the wine right here when you arrive.”
Foodies take note: this season Ravinia will feature a series of “guest chef nights” once again, with menus curated by a lineup that includes Jimmy Banos and Jorge Cordozo (Aug. 26); Nick Santangelo (June 19); John Hogan (July 8) and Tony Mantuano (July 14).
For a full schedule and tickets to the Ravinia season concerts, visit ravinia.org.