The Marketplace at Bown Crossing is just a short three mile drive from downtown via Parkcenter Boulevard, but the trip out there actually felt longer. I was surprised at how long Parkcenter has become and was a bit wary when driving up to the brand spanking new development known as "The Marketplace." The main street, Bown Way, actually looks like a modernized, neutral-toned Norman Rockwell painting.
I found the restaurant itself to be very pleasant. It's extremely spacious, with modern decor that is understated yet comfortable. The staff was immediately friendly and smiling, and we were led to a table right away. Good first impression.
My dining partner and I were anxious to see the menu. It made our choices difficult to make, every item was so tempting. We were glad we arrived famished. We decided to throw caution to the wind and overindulge. Subsequently, we ordered four items. "We can take the leftovers home," we rationalized.
My friend is really into salads. Her eyes had already checked out the neighboring table's salad orders, and she selected ours carefully. The chicken apple walnut chopped salad ($9) is described simply on the menu as "organic field greens, grapes, bleu cheese with apple cider vinaigrette." A huge plate arrived, and we were both very pleased with its offerings. In addition to the described items, the salad had candied walnuts that were scrumptious. With just the right amount of dressing, the greens never became soggy. Another plus was that the kitchen did not scrimp on toppings. We never ran out of bits of chicken, walnuts, fruit or bleu cheese. My friend was impressed. "It even smells good!" was her praise.
The Caprese di Parma focaccia sandwich ($8) arrived next. It's a delight of prosciutto, generous slabs of mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto, with a light honey balsamic dressing on big hunks of rosemary parmesan focaccia bread. Like the salad, it was huge. We only managed to eat half of it, and I took the rest home. The sandwich was my favorite part of the meal and a few hours later, it was still excellent. The flavors were perfectly blended and, as a whole, balanced and delicious. Another perk was the accompanying bag of Kettle chips.
We ordered a flatbread and a Neapolitan pizza to sample both varieties. The sun-dried tomato, artichoke and ricotta stone-fired flatbread pizza ($6.50) was good but a bit on the dry side. We found ourselves wishing we'd ordered the more popular sea salt and parmesan flatbread, which boasted three dipping sauces. We were absolutely delighted with the Neapolitan margherita pizza with pomodoro sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil leaves ($9.50). It was bursting with flavor with a crisp outer crust and soft middle. I added mushrooms (extra toppings are $1) and was overjoyed to find huge chunks of tasty 'shrooms in abundance.
I always enjoy perusing a wine list when dining and was pleased to find enticing offerings in a good mid-range of prices by the glass ($6.25-$9), as well as by the bottle ($26-$38). They also offer Stella Artois, Mack & Jack African Amber and Black Butte Porter on tap, in pitchers or by glass and several different bottled beers (including two Italian imports).
The service was excellent, our water glasses never went empty and our server was always smiling and friendly. At the end of the meal we thought we would be stuffed, but were pleasantly surprised that all the plates we tasted were light and savory. There was no feeling of bloated, greasy weight, no need to pop the top buttons of our jeans and we joked about ordering dessert. The experience was definitely well worth the trip and I look forward to my next meal there with mouth watering enthusiasm.
--Rachel Abrahamson hankers for a slab or slice or hunk o' cheese.