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Flavors: Braving the Pandemic: The Marble Table Opens

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Stella Fong
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Executive Chef Jason Marble heats up a pan with olive oil in the kitchen of The Marble Table, readied to make Chicken Piccata.

Marble is a strong metamorphic rock the Greeks and Romans used for sculptures, signifying refinement and tradition. Jason and Jen carry the name Marble, and in 2020, they lived up to the strength the name implied.
During the COVID 19 Pandemic, the couple made the decision to open up The Marble Table restaurant, serving up “elevated comfort food” on Montana Avenue. A week after they invited diners into their restaurant, the National Restaurant Association released an article entitled: “Restaurant Industry in Freefall: 100,000 Close in Three Months,” reporting 17% of restaurants, more than 110,000 establishments closed permanently or for the long term in 2020 during the pandemic.

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Stella Fong
The Marble Table, opened the Friday after Thanksgiving, is located on Montana Avenue across the street from Carter’s Brewing.

Among others, the pandemic saw Oktoberfest, JP Kitchen, and Lilac shuttered. This fortuitously gave the Marbles the opportunity to take over the vacated Lilac space. Jason’s tenure captaining kitchens at Bistro Enzo, Uberbrew and Last Chance Pub and Cider Mill, along with Jen’s time in the business world created a strong resume.
Jen shared, “We decided to open up because it couldn’t get any worse than what it was, and we were really struggling, trying to figure out what we were going to do. We just decided: why not do it! When you have a dream, you might as well go for it!” After calculating all the numbers, the Marbles concluded that opening up The Marble Table could be viable.

With governmental safety requirements and guidelines mostly in place, the Marbles knew how to prepare their restaurant for opening and takeout. Chef Jaso shared, “The food philosophy is going to be familiar, approachable, and non-pretentious, as well as being takeout friendly. We like to say it should be like your grandma went to culinary school.”
The couple also took into consideration the special packaging required to ensure that the take-out food would arrive fresh and intact, and representative of the dish that was served contemporaneously in their restaurant.

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Stella Fong
Jen and Chef Jason Marble were high school sweethearts at Senior High School to marry eight years ago and to partner in running The Marble Table.

Making clients feel COVID-safe and comfortable was foremost in the redesign of the dining space. In recreating the décor for the restaurant, Jen dove into her “crafty” self. Before COVID, she owned Rustic Nest Designs - sign painting venture, but has had a background in accounting and business management, “helping other people run their businesses and having great customer service.” While having talents with the backend of businesses, Jen confessed to being an extrovert and enjoying the interaction with customers and the front of the house team. She also took on the responsibility of creating the unique décor.

To assure diners of a safe eating experience, Jen recruited the help of her father-in-law, David, to help with creating table dividers from old wooden doors. A window was inserted at the top of each door and then framed to form a partition between tables, creating a cozy COVID-friendly physical separation between tables, and also making a nice sound barrier. She shared, “I had drawn the design out on a piece of paper, and I said I am going to build these.” Knowing how busy Jen would get, David stepped in and built the dividers. Son Michael also got involved, “picking up old doors that barely fit in the back of my truck,” assisting Jen when she found a discarded door that she wanted for the project.
At sixteen, Michael also works in the kitchen helping with dishes and at the pantry station. The Marbles are hoping their three daughters will join them in their business soon. Aside from making this a family affair, Jen said, “We want all of our kids here if that is where they choose to be so we can help them learn how to participate in the workforce. “

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Stella Fong
Sixteen-year-old, Michael, responsible for dishes and the pantry hold a completed dish of Chicken Piccata.

The couple has known each other since childhood. Jen initially found Jason “annoying” when they were in band class together as an eighth grader playing alto saxophone, and he, in seventh grade, playing trumpet. They reconnected at Senior High School, again playing in band class together. One day in her sophomore year, Jen needed a ride home. His 1972 Blue Chevy Truck may have provided him the right calling card, but Jason had other talents to share, “He used to cook for the formals. We didn’t go out that much.” Jen continued, “He used to cook these huge, beautiful meals in the basement of the nursery.” Both had worked at the Billings Nursery and Landscaping, Jason’s family’s business with Jason focusing on landscape work.

The “family affair” continues with life-long friend Christopher McCann as the Sous Chef. He was also in band together with the Marbles. “Marble and I have been cooking together for the last five years. We started at the Last Chance Cider Mill just down the street, moved to Uberbrew, where he was the Executive Chef, and then to Enzo at the other end of town. When he told me he was going to buy a restaurant I told him: You’re crazy, but we’re going to do this.”

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Stella Fong
Chicken Piccata is one of the popular dishes served at The Marble Table alongside the short ribs and burger.

The Marble Table is reaching out to Carter’s Brewing across the street providing the food to go along with Michael Uhrich’s beer.

After nearly two months of operation, the most popular dishes from the “elevated comfort food” menu are their “Braised Short Ribs”, composed of smoked beef short ribs braised in red wine and served with mashed potatoes and garlic mushrooms, and “Chicken Piccata,” a Airline chicken breast on fettuccine with a lemon caper butter wine sauce, topped with shaved Parmesan cheese and a seasoned grilled lemon. For appetizers, the “Jalapeno Corn Fritters” are diner favorites while the Citrus and Vanilla Crème Brûlée is the winning dessert.

The Marble Table has defied the statistics and trends of the restaurant industry during this COVID Pandemic. May their strong will and tenacity continue to move them forward in bringing comfort and new flavors to our community.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.