During lockdown in 2020, chef Johnny Sullivan spent a lot of time tending to his plants. The chef had been working front and back of house at restaurants for 25 years, honing his craft at places like Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Lounge in Seattle and the Brooklyn institution Diner, but the industry had left him burnt out. As his professional career took a forced pause, he channeled his energy into tending to his houseplants, including a pothos — specifically a marble queen. He adopted the name of the spindly, multi-hued plant for his pop-up.
“It was some element of randomness,” Sullivan says. “I liked the name; it kind of jars your mental imagery on some level.”
The thought-provoking name is a fitting moniker for the vibe of the pop-up, whose eclectic menu has been in a constant state of creative evolution. At Marble Queen’s appearances at markets and restaurants like Grains of Wrath and Cafe Gertrude, dinners included everything from wok-fried noodle dishes to fried chicken sandwiches to charcoal-grilled meats, incorporating a wide swath of culinary influences. Soon, the Marble Queen will have a new palace: the former MF Tasty cart on North Williams. The restaurant has been doing one-off services at its new location since August, but will open in a permanent capacity on October 20, serving dinner Thursday through Saturday.
Asian ingredients are prevalent across the menu, appearing in dishes like loaded home fries, which are dressed with a house-made chili crisp, and collard greens, braised in dashi. Nods to Sullivan’s bicoastal background also appear, with offerings like a New York egg cream made with oat milk, chocolate syrup, seltzer, and a Dungeness crab salad dressed with fermented chili and furikake. When the cart debuts, diners can expect an opening menu of hits from the Marble Queen catalogue, including shrimp toast with S&B mustard and lime shoyu, chow mein with house cured pork belly, and fried chicken sandwiches.
“How I approach things now is very different than when I was a younger chef,” Sullivan says. “I have a different attitude and thought process about it. I think I had the discipline instilled in me, but I wasn’t really approaching the world of hospitality with an artist’s eye.”
Sullivan himself resides close to the cart, and is intent on shaping the space into a neighborhood joint. As he’s popped up sporadically in what is now his own space, he’s also been at work making changes to the restaurant’s exterior: The formerly colorful cart has been painted matte black, and a new front fence is going up for a more secluded dining experience. There are also plans to winterize the patio, with the addition of covered seating and space heaters.
Much like the space’s previous tenant, Marble Queen frequenters will come to expect an ever-changing menu—one that molds itself to what diners have an enthusiastic response to. Sullivan is interested in serving ingredients in ways that diners may not have experienced before. No matter what direction Marble Queen may be taking at present, one of its foundational driving forces is pulling together ideas from different places to create a harmonious end result on the plate.
Marble Queen will open at 3925 N Williams Avenue.