Folio Weekly Bite Club Review: Boston’s The Gourmet Pizza (9/27/11)

Posted by on Sep 29, 2011 in Friends, Jacksonville | No Comments

Boston's The Gourmet Pizza - River City Marketplace, Jacksonville, Fla.

Tucked amidst the thicket of Olive Gardens, Chili’s and other ubiquitous, homogenized dining chains you’d expect off a major interstate, the River City Marketplace sports another ‘national brand’ that I suspect many Jacksonvillians may not know (but should) – Boston’s The Gourmet Pizza.

Canadian-founded Boston’s has lived at RCM for almost three years, joining nearly 400 other Boston’s-branded casual dining restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The Northside store features a wide variety of homemade-crust pizzas, salads, appetizers, pastas, sandwiches, desserts and a full bar – all in a sports-bar environment with plenty of flat-screen TVs bolted to the ceiling. One refreshing note I must mention early on: the kitchen stays open until 1:30 a.m., seven days a week! How often do you find that in Jacksonville?

Anyway, on to our Bite Club assignment on September 27: Eat one of everything on the menu (OK, maybe not, but it sure felt like it … even a day later as I write this post).

The evening began with check-in, networking and cocktails – one complimentary beer, wine or well liquor. After a long day, that made for a short drink. Thankfully our wait staff airlifted several platters of tasty flatbreads into our meet-and-greet zone, then got out of the way as we gobbled them without delay. I can’t tell you the flavors, aside from cilantro all mixed up with ooey-gooey cheesy goodness. After my day at the office, it fit the bill.

After taking our seats, the parade of food (or “chorus of carbohydrates,” perhaps?) proceeded into our area unabated for the next two hours. So the Bacon-Wrapped Steak Skewers may not have been all about the carbs, but they were chock-full of protein-laden tenderness and flavor. If you closed your eyes (and nose), you might swear you were eating a bacon-wrapped scallop … yes, they were that tender. Win! Next up were the Southwest Raviolis – breaded guys with Mexican-type cheeses and a little bit of fire. Growing up on a steady diet of Jeno’s Pizza Rolls, it was easy to mistake the raviolis for these icons of my youth. Not that that’s a BAD thing, but let’s just say if you’ve had seven too many and it’s 1:30 a.m., and you’ve got the munchies, these are like manna. Finally on the starters platter, Boston’s Nachos presented crisp, evenly coated chips with all the good stuff – beef or chicken, a blend of cheeses, beans, olives, tomatoes and jalapenos. The haphazardly coated Ultimate Nachos of other casual-dining haunts should take note.

Moving onto salads, our table sampled The Santa Fe, with grilled chicken breast on fresh mixed greens with black beans … well, just read the Boston’s Nachos description above and you’re with me on the toppings. Tasty, definitely not healthy (as you might assume a salad could be) and pretty standard salad fare.

As you might assume, entrees came knocking as my tummy started talking, preceded by some so-so breadsticks. Presenting first was the Jambalaya Fettuccine, which is exactly what it sounds like (replacing rice with this “fat” pasta). The spicy Cajun Pomodoro sauce and mix of zesty veggies and bite-size proteins was irresistible. Another win. Next up came the Shrimp Tortellini, which was more like Cheese Tortellini with shrimp in a broth of broccoli, tomatoes, green onions, etc. Those of you who really know me known my deep disdain for the treelike texture of broccoli, but I somehow survived and enjoyed the tortellini immensely. Finally, the Spicy Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo (What gives? Did Sysco have a broccoli-in-bulk special recently?) wasn’t all evil-thick alfredo saucy like I thought it would be. Minus the mini trees, it was delicious. I’d just ask the server next time to remove the offending vegetable.

Most rationale foodies (and their stomachs) would draw the line at entrees and start surfing the menu for dessert, but remember that Boston’s is a PIZZA place (and I’m not counting the pre-event flatbreads). So the pies came flying at our tables – from Mama Meata to Sicilian to Spinach & Artichoke (my favorite) and other varietals. Whatever water source they use to form their crust is beyond-words pure, because they were amazing bases for the mega-sized toppings to rest. One thing I will criticize about the pizza selections, though, is the rather conspicuous absence of a veggie-themed pie. The Florentine – the only meatless selection – doesn’t go far enough, because there’s a difference between “meatless” and “veggie.” Some of us may be OK digging on cow, but really can’t resist the crunch of red and green peppers, the allure of sautéed onions, button mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes … I could go on.

Gluten-free pies!Incidentally, I sampled my girlfriend’s gluten-free thin-crust pepperoni (yes, Boston’s makes its own g-free crusts), and it was far-and-away the best such crust I’ve found in Jax (although if/when Pizza Fusion comes to Northeast Florida, they’ll be itching for a fight). Without a doubt, Amie and I will drive a half-hour north again for this pizza.

To round out the evening (and our waistlines), we enjoyed Individual Petites, which are mini-desserts served in tall shot glasses. Between Brownie, Bread Pudding, Apple Crisp and Strawberry Cheesecake, my belt was screaming, “Uncle!” Nothing too novel about this dessert format, but it just plain works for my overzealous sweet tooth.

Our wait staff was attentive and very polite throughout the evening, which is a feat in and of itself due to the sheer volume of clean plates they delivered to our tables every eight minutes (or so) between courses. Overall, Boston’s did a wonderful job hosting our group. While some menu selections were uninspiring and lacking novelty, I get the sense the target audience for this concept doesn’t much care. The food was fresh, tasty and fitting for casual gatherings, with reasonable prices to match. Win.