It's no surprise Marco's Italian Bistro has been open for less than two months. The new eatery, located on Frazier Avenue in the space formerly occupied by Jet Stream Grill, seems still to be trying to refine its presentation.
While there are many dining options on the North Shore, it's a good idea to try to fill the Italian niche since, aside from an acquaintance who is allergic to garlic, I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy this type of cuisine.
This also comes with the drawback that everyone thinks they know Italian, or at least compares all Italian food to that dream meal they once had, so the restaurant has something to live up to the minute you walk in the door.
IF YOU GO
What: Marco's Italian Bistro.
Where: 417 Frazier Ave.
Website: marcos chattanooga.sharepoint.com
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 4-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Price range: $2.95 for a half salad to $20.95 for steak.
Alcohol: Full bar.
The menu gives you the option to make your own pasta dish as well as your own pizza. The base price for pasta is $11.95, with vegetable accompaniments $1 each and meats ranging from $1.95 for chicken to $6.95 for lobster. Base pizza cost is $10.95, and the toppings are similarly priced to the pasta options.
The Italian restaurant staple of Parmigianino chicken is included in the Chef's Specialties section, where dishes range in price from $14.95 for the chicken or veal piccatta to $20.95 for a beef steak.
A nice selection of salads includes the house or Caesar salad for $5.95 and a Caprese salad for $6.95. All half portions are $2.95, except for the Caprese, which is $5. There are also three soup choices:minestrone, a tomato basil bisque and the soup of the day, all at $4.95 for the bowl and $2.95 for a cup.
The kids menu is reasonably priced, with all dishes at $3.95, and there is a brunch menu that features a soup, salad and dessert buffet along with a choice of entree for $18.95, with the option to include champagne or a Bellini for a dollar more.
The order: To begin the meal, our party of four decided to try an appetizer. The antipasti range in price from the standard bruschetta at $5.95 to the $9.95 Gamberetti Remoulade, which is five shrimp with a remoulade dressing.
We settled on the mini meatballs in a house-made red sauce, topped with Romano cheese. The $6.95 dish came with eight meatballs and bread, and although some of the bread was charred, the meatballs and the sauce were very good.
Our entrees -- Shrimp Alfredo ($17.90), chicken and spinach ravioli ($11.95), Parmigianino chicken ($14.95) and lobster pizza ($16.95) -- provided a good sample of what Marco's has to offer. Unfortunately, it also showed how far it has to go.
While the shrimp and pasta were good on the Shrimp Alfredo, the sauce was not very creamy. The chicken and spinach ravioli got points for being house-made, but it was deemed almost safe for a vegetarian. The Parmigianino chicken had a good, zesty taste but was burnt on the bottom, and the spaghetti and red sauce were underwhelming. The lobster pizza was fine.
Dessert, a tiramisu and cheesecake with biscotti crust, was good.
Overall, the food was OK. Calling it anything less would be too harsh, and calling it anything more would be too generous.
We decided to eat outside, where we were treated to the sights of the North Shore, including tourists out for a stroll and a man taking his son for a ride on a half-bicycle, half-cradle contraption that inspired equal amounts of wonder and worry. Inside diners aren't so lucky.
With walls painted in dark reds and décor that doesn't suggest Italy as much as it does SkyMall, the space is thoroughly generic. There are plenty of tables, though, and several large parties appeared to be comfortably seated.
There is also a large bar that offers every kind of martini you can imagine -- 50 off the menu alone.
Three people waited on our table: the manager, who also served as our waiter; the chef, who brought our food and came out to ask how everything had been; and a confused waiter, who probably wondered why we hadn't just eaten inside.
All three were very nice and enthusiastic. The manager, when asked about sauce recommendations, was knowledgeable about the menu and possible choices. Everyone was so attentive that we almost felt bad about not liking everything more.
At this point, the restaurant doesn't have the polish it should.
For instance, when we asked for some pepper, our server brought out McCormick salt and pepper grinders -- practical but not in keeping with a place that doesn't have McCormick salt and pepper grinder prices.
But if you're in the mood for Italian food on the North Shore, I would give Marco's a try. While for us the enjoyment of dishes was hit-or-miss, the staff's attitude makes me hope they will iron out the kinks and develop into a restaurant worth going back to.
Luis F. Carrasco joined the Times Free Press in 2007 as managing editor for Noticias Libres, a Spanish-language weekly covering East Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, before transitioning in 2010 to the Times Free Press webdesk. He has previously worked as an assistant city editor at the El Paso Times, where he also was a pop culture columnist and blogger, and was the founding managing editor for El Diario de El Paso, a Spanish-language daily published ...