Indiana’s Top Chefs featuring the Lakehouse Grille

Spend just five minutes with Mark Damore and you’ll have no doubt just how passionate he is about his family. And his food. And his town.

It’s all three of these that ultimately led him to his dream job, owning and operating The Lakehouse Grille in Culver, Indiana.

“Culver is magical,” Mark says with a twinkle in his eye. “When people come here for the first time, they’re astonished. You drive through the middle of cornfields then suddenly you see an oasis.” Mark calls Culver “a little part lake town, a little part college town.” And he credits a collective spirit of the town’s local residents, seasonal residents and business community for coming together to help create a place with an impressive history and “Mayberry vibe.”

Mark purchased The Lakehouse Grille in early 2012, holding its grand opening in May of that same year. Its prime location, with views of Lake Maxinkuckee just across the street, created an opportunity for Mark to not only incorporate a lake theme— there’s a 20-foot sailboat suspended from the ceiling—but provide additional outside patio seating for warmer months.

He gives a ton of praise to his “amazing parents,” who are originally from Chicago and purchased a cottage on Lake Maxinkuckee in 1998. Mark always loved it when his family would say “let’s go to the lake house.” He wanted to play off that saying with his restaurant, hoping “let’s go to The Lakehouse (restaurant)” would bring up those same positive feelings from his guests.

Quite humble, Mark hesitates to “brag” about his food and the awards that have come with it. But he is open to talking about the quality and pride that goes into every dish, how almost everything is made from scratch, and why he stays focused on what his guests expect and enjoy. “Complex dishes are a trend right now,” Mark explains. “But complexity can hide the quality of the dish itself. Our dishes have to speak for themselves to appeal to a very broad audience.”

And speak they do. The crab cake recipe stems from Maryland where they often use very little filler. The star of the crab cakes? Crab, crab, and more crab.Enjoyed with a side of homemade remoulade sauce, they would even please folks from Maryland.

Two more dishes that show up on the “wow” meter are the barbecue ribs and the Reuben sandwich—and both require patience.

The corned beef is slow cooked for 16 hours before it will ever end up on a Reuben sandwich, and the ribs are roasted up to five hours. “The ribs are incredibly popular,” Mark says. “And we’re not even a barbecue joint.”

Other patron-popular items are the fish & chips, steaks, and the chicken bacon club. In fact, one loyal guest usually comes in multiple times every week just to get his club sandwich.

But it’s the burgers that are the best-sellers, and the biggest award- winners. Their Hawaiian Burger was a finalist in the Northern Indiana Burger Wars and even took second place in a “100 Best Burgers in 100 miles” featurette based out of northern Indiana. It’s topped with fresh grilled pineapple and their very own teriyaki sauce. Other popular burgers are the Walking Boss that comes with homemade cole slaw, corned beef, over-easy egg, and swiss cheese; and the French Onion Burger which is actually cooked in French onion soup, and topped with croutons, caramelized onion, mozzarella and swiss cheese…and served with a side of French onion broth.

Beyond burgers, The Lakehouse Grille has earned plenty more awards. They’ve received multiple first-place honors in the “Best of Marshall County”—Best Bar & Grill, Best Fine Dining, Best Seafood, Best Steak, Best Restaurant Service, and Most Romantic.

And speaking of romance, Mark’s wife, Dana, grew up in Culver and shares Mark’s passion for the restaurant business. “I couldn’t do it without her,” Mark says with a generous smile. “She’s very gifted and creative. She has a way of taking ideas and making them a reality.”

Mark describes Dana as “pure and kind” and credits her for keeping him balanced. “There’s so much to do behind the scenes here, “Mark says, “so I don’t get as much time on the floor as I’d like. Dana helps fill that void. The guests love her natural ability to relate to them.”

At the end of the day, Mark says the only big objective he has for his business is simple: to make people happy. “We care about every single one of our patrons so, so much,” Mark says. “If someone has a great experience here, mission accomplished.”