Past due for an upgrade, the Dining Pavilion at Ravinia is reconceived with a new look and a take on where to eat before a concert. It’s music to our ears.
Originally opened in 2007 to great fanfare, the Dining Pavilion at Ravinia had grown tired, both in terms of form and functionality. So when the 2017 outdoor performance season came to a close, Ravinia President and CEO Welz Kauffman and his design team (including original building architect Michael Barnes of Wight and Company and interior restaurant space designer Mark Knauer of Chicago’s Knauer Incorporated) got down to business on a $15-million buildout. Their goals: create greater synergy between indoor and outdoor spaces without increasing the structure’s footprint; expand seating and accessibility; and rejuvenate the dated food and beverage menus, all in a single off-season.
“Ravinia is famous for offering a different concert most every night, and all the offerings of our new Dining Pavilion parallel that concept,” says new Executive Chef Michael Tsonton. “It’s like opening five restaurants at once.”
Tsonton, who was brought on to the Levy Restaurant team at Ravinia during the 2017 season, knows something about opening restaurants and multi-unit properties — his past projects include the now-shuttered Brìo, Tizi Melloul, and Copperblue restaurants in Chicago and numerous boutique hotels and country clubs in the area. The scope of this project provided a welcome challenge for the chef, allowing him to push the envelope further when envisioning the expanded menus and fresh concepts for the new space.
“Along with its spectacular concerts, Ravinia offers a three- to five-hour social experience that is unlike anything you’d find at a typical concert venue, and dining is a major part of that experience,” says Kauffman. “The rejuvenation of the Dining Pavilion will expand the opportunities for our guests to enjoy their night out, whether they just need to add to a picnic or luxuriate in a full-service appetizer-to-dessert feast.”
When the Ravinia Festival opens for the 2018 season on June 1 with fan favorites Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys, the Dining Pavilion will throw open its doors to show off the exciting improvements. Here’s what to expect:
This engaging first-floor space, which once housed the Mirabelle buffet, will have indoor and outdoor full-service bars that will remain open for service throughout the concerts, a first for Ravinia. Look for small-plate appetizers and entrees with comfort-food roots (think fried chicken sliders and marlin fish tacos), signature craft cocktails, and a casual vibe.
Located next to the Lawn Bar, the gift shop (run by the Ravinia Women’s Board) has doubled in size and increased its selection of Ravinia apparel, gift items, and picnic gear, with all profits earmarked for Ravinia’s REACH*TEACH*PLAY education initiative.
Levy has expanded the offerings in this fast-casual food hall for those looking to grab a quick dinner before the show. Gone are the sad reheated steam-table burgers of past seasons; say hello to juicy made-to-order griddled burgers at 847 Burger. Find freshly made paninis and more at Pressed Paninis & Sides; charcoal-fired pies at the revamped Pizza Classico, including special pizzas themed to each concert; authentic tacos every day of the week at Sabrosa Taqueria, along with loaded guacamole and elotes; and real-deal, slow-cooked smoked brisket and chicken at Smoke House 1904. Grab-and-go items have seen an upgrade as well, including several beautiful cheese boards fresh from The Great American Cheese Collection, perfect to supplement your own picnic offerings.
What was once sporadically used private dining space now offers a different take on the self-serve buffet, with chef’s tables and carving stations focused on “micro-seasonal” displays of locally sourced produce and more. Outside is a covered terrace, its support posts reminiscent of the birch trees surrounding the park.
Ravinia’s lovely fine-dining restaurant overlooks the Great Lawn; other than a full-menu refresh, the space remains much as it was, but the alfresco terrace has been covered to allow guests to enjoy their meals outside no matter the weather.
I Scream, You Scream…
The Carousel ice cream space has been decommissioned, but fear not: Hershey’s mobile carts will be stationed throughout the park.
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Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.