Dining Diversity in Ocala’s Historic Downtown Square #LivinginOcala

Horses, livestock, breathtaking oak trees and wide open spaces frame the landscape of Marion County. The scenery throughout the countryside of Ocala is what draws many people to this region of Florida, where the topography is more undulating, appealing to those who love the outdoors.

But for those who appreciate a variety of culinary experiences, the Historic Downtown Square, located in the city of Ocala, adds flavor to your lifestyle.

There is nothing better than a great night out in the spring when the evenings are cool, the sun sets later in the sky and your choice in a restaurant reflects your craving for the day. Stroll around the square and enjoy the sites and sounds of downtown Ocala before you dine.

There are several restaurants located in Downtown Square that we love to frequent. Each has it’s own distinct menu, specialty drinks, and ambiance, serving up a variety of fantastic dining experiences and fun evenings out on the town.

Through our series of articles, Living In Ocala, we’re going to feature some of our top restaurant picks, ranging from fine dining experiences to casual grazing and top watering holes.

Upscale Dining at Mark’s Prime

Mark’s Prime, which is located on the corner of SW Broadway and SE Magnolia, is an upscale steak house with a welcoming feel. Cindi Nicholson, the Proprietor of Mark’s Prime, opened the restaurant in 2008 with partners Billy Shields, Randy McCoy, and Louis Saig. Since the opening, Mark’s Prime has become a mainstay in downtown Ocala, known for their hand cut, mouth watering steaks, comfortable atmosphere, and friendly bar.

Entering Mark’s Prime, guests have a variety of choices for their evening dining experience to match their mood; From casual to formal, chose to enjoy a warm evening on the patio watching the Downtown Square come alive, or cozy up to the bar and chat with locals while enjoying a casual dining experience. If your plans for the evening are to celebrate a special occasion, reserve a table in the more formal, centralized dining room. Regardless of your choice in atmosphere, we guarantee the food and drink will bring you back as a regular patron.

What We Savor at Mark’s Prime

On our most recent visit, we chose a more casual evening in the bar room at Mark’s Prime. As always, the servers at the bar were warm and friendly, and the fresh strawberry watermelon Prime Fusion Martini’s were a springtime treat. The homemade loaf of warm bread was the perfect introduction to the main course, which was an exquisite filet, seared to perfection with the slightly sinful butter sauce.The Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Lyonnaise Potatoes were the perfect compliments to the meal.

Matt Varney loves the beef tartar and the crabtini, which is one of the best appetizers in Ocala. Chris and Matt also love a good bourbon drink, and Mark’s Prime makes a great old fashioned as well. Matt’s wife LOVES their raspberry martinis and cosmos.

Ribeye at Mark’s Prime, photo credit Mark’s Prime
Filet at Mark’s Prime, photo credit Mark’s Prime

So whether you’re out on the town for a casual night of meeting friends and clients for drinks and appetizers on the patio or at the bar, or you’re celebrating a special occasion, Mark’s Prime will exceed your expectations. Attentive service, exquisite cocktails, and an exceptional meal will keep Mark’s Prime at the top of your list of dining choices in Ocala’s Historic Downtown Square!

Throughout the years, we’ve become locals at Mark’s Prime, and during that time we have had the opportunity to become friendly with one of the owners, Cindi Nicholson.

The original Mark’s Prime opened in Gainesville in 2002, before Proprietor Cindi Nicholson opened the Downtown Square in Ocala in 2008. Cindi was kind enough to spend an evening with us recently, and we asked her why she chose downtown Ocala to open this second location. Here are some snippets from our conversation that evening.

Q&A With Cindi Nicholson, Proprietor of Mark’s Prime

Q: Why did you choose Ocala over other cities in Florida?

A: I used to cut through Ocala when traveling up north and we moved here in 2000 from Southern Florida. Quality of life was my goal. A calmer life with rolling hills in the country, which is something I grew up with. The rolling hills, the green grass, and the horses…I missed that. As I child I grew up in Connecticut and Maine, where you had the big yards and the outdoors. I wanted my daughter to have the same outdoor feeling, and her well-being and quality of life were a priority.

Q: What is your background as a Restauranteur.

A: I worked for 12 years as a trouble shooter and food and beverage director for Continental Company and they moved me around quite a bit. I took 10 transfers in 12 years working for them. In my 30’s I decided I would go on my own, so at 35 I opened my first restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, named Ocean Café Restaurant and Lady Sea Catering.

Q: What makes downtown so special to you and why did you choose your business to be located in downtown Ocala?

A: I love old towns and always have. Every time I traveled I would go to look for the downtown area and when I hit downtown Ocala I liked the quaintness of it. This building at Marks Prime is 120 years old and I love that stature. It’s a different unique feeling.

Q: On that note, what’s unique about Marks Prime?

A: MP is an upscale fine dining, old school steak house, a little bit of country feel. Having horse people coming in and feeling comfortable was a goal of ours. The restaurant has a small town “Cheers” feel to it. It’s always about talking to the guest and that no one ever leaves feeling like we’re not inviting.

Prime Infused Martinis, photo credit Mark’s Prime

Q: We know that Rob Desino has an affinity for your martinis. Tells a bit about why they’re so special?

A: We love to serve the guys our Prime Infused Martini. We use all fresh fruits and straight vodka that sit for a minimum of 72 hours infusing. We make anywhere from 8 to 15 gallons a week of it and on Valentine’s Day went through 5 gallons alone! It’s our number one martini here at Mark’s.

Q: From the menu, what are your top sellers & signature dishes?

A: We are a prime steak house & all meat cutting is done in house. Mr. Zoisour phenomenal grill master. He’s run the whole show for 8 years and he does all of our own cutting and grilling. If you’re coming in for a steak dinner, you’re coming for our Bone-In Prime Delmonico or Hand Cut Filet Mignon, served on a hot 500-degree sizzling plate with butter. We’re also known for our own desserts made in-house. We’re known for our Chocolate Paradise, but we also make our own cheesecakes, bread puddings, and creme brulee.

Q: If you were a visitor coming to Ocala, what other cultural recommendations would you have for people. When you do get out of your restaurant, what do you love about downtown Ocala?

A: The Marion Theatre which is right down the street is a great option. The very first Elvis movie played at the Marion Theatre. For a small town, Ocala, the Riley Center has amazing entertainment, and we have the Symphony. If you haven’t heard our symphony, I love when they play in the downtown square, what a great production.

Q: You recently took part in the Ocala Restaurant Festival. Tell us about that event.

A: We had the Ocala Culinary Arts Festival, and each day they held a different event and hosted many different chefs. Chef Randal, who we hired originally as a consultant, chose to stay on with us as our Executive Chef and he’s unbelievably talented. He’s so talented and part of old school Ocala, everyone knows him. He did smoked lamb chops with watermelon salsa and the line never quit. It was a great event to be part of and a great showing for downtown Ocala for locals and visitors traveling through!

Many thanks to Cindi and the entire staff at Mark’s Prime for their wonderful hospitality and delicious contribution to the culinary choices in the Historic Downtown Square.

If you are visiting the region, searching for your perfect home, make sure that you tour the city of Ocala while getting to know greater Marion County. While in Ocala, come see for yourself why Mark’s Prime certainly is one of our top choices for a perfect night out on the town!

~ The Team at Ocala Horse Properties