It’s been said that when noted explorer Marco Polo returned from Asia after visiting Kublai Khan around 1292, he brought foods, pastas and spices back to Italy.
This merging of Italian and Asian foods is the backbone of one of Downtown St. Joseph’s newest restaurants, Marco Polo at 614 Francis St.
“I love Italian food. I love Asian food,” owner Dean Callon says. “And it just made sense, especially the story with Marco Polo, because he was an Italian who traveled through Asia. … He changed Italian food culture.”
Callon used to live in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But after meeting with Winston Bennett, who owns the Kirkpatrick Building where Marco Polo currently is located, Callon moved to St. Joseph to open his restaurant in the vacant space.
Callon brought on his good friend, Jeremy Elliot, to work as the restaurant’s head chef. The two met in Greensboro, North Carolina, and Elliot said back when they met, Greensboro was a lot like St. Joseph is now.
“That was my first comment to him. I said, ‘I feel like we just stepped back in time … and I said, ‘Imagine if we could go back in time,’ because we watched this entire city of Greensboro just kind of blow up in popularity,” Elliot says. “We watched their downtown revitalization, and we watched all of the mistakes and the great ideas that came from that. To be able to come here and have a chance to do it right, to do all of the things that we saw that we wished could have happened back then, I think is great. I’m ready for that to happen, I just hope St. Joe is ready for that to happen.”
Callon says he did a bit of research to see how many Italian-Asian fusion restaurants he could find, only to discover a few in New York.
Elliot has been cooking professionally for more than a decade, and Callon often praises his chef for the wide variety of dishes on offer.
“We have udon noodles, for example, which is one of my favorite pastas,” Callon said. “It’s a thicker Japanese pasta, and we do a few dishes with that. We do a Samurai in Genoa which has some red-wine poached sausage on top of those udon noodles. The sauce that we have is a pesto and sriracha, ponzu and a little bit of tomato paste, which is amazing together. It’s one of my favorite dishes we have.”
Meanwhile, Elliot said his favorite entree was Marco Polo’s twist on the classic tenderloin.
“It reflects where we are. Pork tenderloin is a big deal here … and when I found that out, I thought, ‘Well, we should do one,’” Elliot says. “It’s a great blend of both Asian, Italian and Midwestern foods.”
With a nice selection beers and cocktails like a Limoncellotini and a Liquirizia Bella as well as various wine choices, both Callon and Elliot hope to bring crowds Downtown to try their unique culinary combinations.
Marco Polo is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 5 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Starting Thursday, April 25, the restaurant plans to host karaoke from 8 to 10 p.m.