For Chicagoans, Ravinia is synonymous with summer. Established as an amusement park in 1904, the spot became the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s summer residence in 1936. Now, more than 100 years after its original incarnation, the outdoor concert venue is known as much for its A-list acts — this year’s include the Indigo Girls and Tony Bennett — as it is for its lively lawn scene and myriad dining options.
This season, new executive chef Matthew Ford takes over the park’s dining program, run by Levy Restaurants. An eight-year member of the Levy team, Ford brings his fresh, seasonal cooking — with elements sourced from the park’s on-site herb garden — to every edible element, from the food carts to the high-end eateries, and he’ll keep the offerings fresh all season. “We’re always changing our menus, keeping it different and entertaining,” he says. “That’s what Ravinia is all about.”
Whatever your dining style, there’s an option to enjoy while taking in the tunes.
• Since 2007, Ravinia’s casually sophisticated Park View Restaurant has served up contemporary American cuisine — and panoramic vistas of festival grounds. Look for dishes such as wild mushroom strudel with goat cheese and tomato jam ($13) and stuffed quail gumbo with foie gras and wild rice ($24).
• Mirabelle Restaurant’s Chef’s Table offers a range of options, with a portion labeled “Family Friendly.” Guest chefs oversee themed dinners, often subtly designed to match the music. This year’s lineup includes Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia and Thomas Bowman and Ben Roche of Baume & Brix. Graze the buffet for $34.95.
Picnics in the grass
• At Ravinia Market, a come-as-you-are food court, find brick-oven pizza ($10) from Pie Squared and a selection of Latin-inspired food from the brand new Sabrosa. “Everything’s made from scratch,” says Ford, “and people enjoy interacting with chefs while dinner is prepared.”
• Call Picnic Box 48 hours ahead to have a portable meal or snack — like a local artisan cheese platter ($10) or salsa and chips ($5) — ready to pick up when you arrive. And forget about schlepping furniture: Ravinia rents tables and chairs, complete with staff to set them up for you.
Stroll and snack
• Need an intermission sugar-boost? Stop by Carousel Ice Cream Shop at the East Gate. Ravinia’s signature flavor, Cappuccino Crunch, is reason enough to attend to a concert.
• Or keep an eye out for the FanFare Carts, which bring beverages, several kosher items and ice cream right to you.
• Ravinia Catering sets up as few as 20 people or more than 100 on the lawn, under a tent or in private dining spaces. Available packages vary by event, but as an example, 20 people can purchase an all-inclusive package ($75/person) that offers a tent, buffet, unlimited wine and beer and tickets.
201 St. Johns, Highland Park. For tickets and reservations, call (847) 266-5100 or visit Ravinia.org
Story by David Hammond