words and photos by Sandy Maxwell

How does an upscale restaurant manage to feel elegant but not at all stuffy or pretentious? A gracious and accommodating staff accompanied by a soundtrack of smooth jazz. Dishes presented at the table with flair and style. Natural light pouring through large windows creating an artful backdrop to beautifully plated food. Located on East Market Street, Marques at the East End strikes this inspiring balance with their Southern Cajun and Creole fusion. 

The owner welcomed us enthusiastically and presented his new three-page cocktail list including a good mix of classic and inventive signature drinks. We kept it simple, though, and opted for some bottled beers to sip while perusing the menu. Although the burgers and chicken sandwiches sounded tempting, we were there for some signature cuisine.

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Giving us an indication of good things to come, the fried green tomato appetizer delivered thick, meaty slices of tomato which stood up to the crunchy breading. A generous amount of tangy southern sauce was the perfect complement. The hot crab dip was thick, creamy and held large chunks of crab which we happily piled high atop buttery crostini.

Often overlooked, the true test of a restaurant is their side salad. A boring, carelessly made salad can sometimes sabotage a good meal. Thankfully, our server brought us salads that were impeccably crisp and fresh. Chunky cucumbers, tomatoes and shredded carrots were piled atop greens which had neither a wilted nor bitter leaf.

The entrees came out quickly after; each dish clearly made with careful consideration and love. Shrimp and grits incorporated a wonderful blend of textures with rich, velvety grits and smoky, crunchy bacon. The shrimp were plump and firm with a satisfying bite. The smothered pork chop was tender and juicy, covered in a brown gravy that made me want to go check if my grandma was in the kitchen. Upon request, our server provided a side of bread so we could sop up every last drop. Sides of savory mac and cheese and green beans added to the nostalgic feel. Blackened chicken pasta had sizeable and juicy pieces of chicken that were spicy and flavorful, as opposed to just charred, which some restaurants often try to pass off as Cajun fare. Hefty slices of peppers and sundried tomatoes stood up to the bold and plentiful sauce. 

As content as we were, we couldn’t resist ordering a side of the bleu cheese coleslaw. With sweet, classic slaw and a thick layer of fresh bleu crumbles, this is decidedly for bleu cheese fanatics only. If you fit the bill, don’t pass this one up. A delicately spiced sweet potato bar with a soft crumbly crust rounded out the meal leaving the pleasant taste of nutmeg and cardamom lingering on our tongues. 

From the ambiance right down to the last morsel of food, everything about our evening at Marques succeeded at being chic yet easygoing. Tables are appropriately placed for social distancing and the restaurant allows enough space so diners who might be nervous about crowds can have a comfortable experience throughout. Carry-out is available for those who prefer not to dine in. Closed on Mondays, Marques is open from 11-8 Tuesday through Sunday, with a happy hour from 4-7.

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