First Bites: Italian Oven Café
Mall fast food is a pretty goddamned dismal mouthful, but this little joint in CityPlace has gotten enough foodie buzz for Charlie to put his intestinal tract on the line and check it out.
Italian Oven Café is the sole and way-slimmed-down survivor of the Pittsburgh-based Italian Oven chain that got up to 100-plus units in the U.S. and Australia before crashing and burning in the mid-1990s. It's a cute place with a sort of generic-moderne décor, done up in soothing earth tones with lots of comfy booths and the look and feel of a semi-upscale café.
You order at the counter from a menu of apps, composed salads,
pizzas, pastas, and panini, with everything but some lobster and shrimp
ravioli costing ten bucks or less. That done, you get a card with a
number, stick it on your table, and a server will deliver your food.
It's a pretty efficient system, though it can back up when the hungry
hordes descend at lunch.
And what about that food?
quick, healthy-tasting, uncomplicated eating, whether in or to go, it's
not half-bad. Portions aren't huge, but prices aren't either, and
everything Charlie sampled tasted of fresh, quality ingredients, from
crisp, pepper arugula to a variety of cheeses to tomato sauces made
with San Marzano tomatoes.
Individual pizzas are $6 (unless
you add more goodies) and sport that NY-style pizza crust -- crisp around
the edges, foldable in the middle. The quattro formaggio comes gilded
with caramelized onions, spinach, and pistachios, the grilled chicken
and spinach with roasted tomatoes and pancetta. Toppings are applied
with a fairly light hand, so they're not the most filling pies in the
world... on the other hand, whaddaya want for six bucks?
tastes freshly made, with thin sheets of properly cooked pasta, big
chunks of meat, and good marinara -- it's more like the product of a real
restaurant than a fast-food joint. There are good panini too, like the
grilled chicken with crispy onions, fresh mozzarella, and damned tasty
lemon-artichoke pesto. It costs $8 and comes with a tiny ramekin of
passable pasta salad.
Let's put it this way: You could do (and probably have done) a whole helluva lot worse.
Italian Oven Café
477 S. Rosemary, West Palm Beach
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