A crime not to go: Metro-east police officer serves up home cooking at MarkO's Grille

News-DemocratJuly 28, 2013 

Arlene Hoffmann Bommarito calls ahead when she's bringing a group of friends to MarkO's Grille in Cahokia.

She wants to make sure the restaurant doesn't run out of fried pickles.

"They're just awesome," said Arlene, 56, of Dupo, who stops in about twice a week.

Owner Mark Szymanski and his wife, Tara, have been leasing the kitchen in the Knights of Columbus Council 4596 hall for nearly three years.

They serve lunch Sundays through Thursdays and lunch and dinner on Fridays. Customers sit in the dining hall or bar.

"We're just trying to have a place with good, home cooking," said Mark, 55, of Belleville. "Everything else around here is fast food."

The restaurant serves fish and chicken plates, appetizers, salads, sandwiches and pizza.

Kitchen manager Dawna Lee makes chicken and dumplings on Sundays, as well as apple and peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake and other desserts.

"I've got people hooked on the cobbler," said Lee, 43, of Cahokia. "I make it from scratch. It's my grandmother's recipe."

Burgers at MarkO's are hand-pattied, and French fries are hand-cut. Bread comes from Fazio's Bakery on The Hill, including swirl rye for fish plates.

The restaurant's specialty is broasted fried chicken.

"I marinate it for two solid days before it gets breaded and cooked in our broaster," Mark said.

Mark has been a Sauget policeman for 32 years. He was the youngest officer the department ever hired.

Mark also owns R&G Enterprises, which sells meat, poultry and janitorial supplies to restaurants and provides pizza for group fundraisers. He formerly owned a lawn-care and snow-removal business.

"I'm just like my grandfather," Mark said of his propensity to work more than one job at a time. "He was a Philadelphia police officer, and he built houses on the side."

Tara is a nurse with Bethesda Health Group. The Szymanskis have two daughters, Logan, 16, and Kami, 9, who help out at the restaurant.

Mark took over the Knights of Columbus lease in 2011 after running the kitchen for St. Mary-St. Augustine Catholic Grade School in Belleville on bingo nights.

"So many people came up to me and told me how good my food was," he said.

Mark's fried fish was popular then, and it still is today. He offers catfish, cod, walleye and occasionally tilapia.

Customer Norm Sheble, 56, of Dupo, usually orders fish when he and his girlfriend go to MarkO's on Friday night.

"If you like cod," Norm said, "his breading is to die for."

At a glance

What: MarkO's Grille

Where: Knights of Columbus Council 4596 hall, 100 E. Fifth St. in Cahokia

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays (closed Saturdays for catering)

Seating: About 725 in dining hall and bar

Handicap-accessible: Yes

Carry-outs: Yes

Delivery: Yes

Information: 618-337-1303, www.markosgrille.com or orders@markosgrille.com

On the menu

Fish and chicken plates -- Choice of two sides (green beans, baked beans, mac and cheese, hush puppies, cole slaw, spaghetti, corn or potato salad), $8.50

Philly cheese steak sandwich -- Roasted sliced steak, MarkO's cheese and sauteed green peppers, mushrooms and onions with house seasoning on a Kaiser roll from Fazio's Bakery, $5.75

Chef salad -- Lettuce with ham, turkey, MarkO's cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes and housemade croutons, $6.75

MarkO's pizza -- Nine-inch, thin crust with any toppings, $6; or 12-inch, thick crust with any toppings, $9

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