80 East Tennessee Ave.
Critic's star breakdown
- Food: 4
- Service: 3
- Atmosphere: 4
- Overall: 4
The Market House at Jackson Square in Oak Ridge is one of the newest area restaurants to trade on the popular farm-to-table concept. Their seasonal menus are built around fresh local produce and cuts of meat, and they offer their fare in a relaxed, casual bistro-style setting, as The Grub Spouse and I discovered for ourselves on a recent dinner excursion.
We had pre-scouted their summer dinner menu online ahead of time but found a number of variations on the actual printed menu we were handed upon seating. Presumably, these updates reflect recent product acquisitions. Also, a rotating list of side items is displayed in chalk on a signboard near the bar, along with the daily entree and soup specials.
Our hostess wound up doing double duty as our server, but we hadn't had quite enough time with the menu when she arrived to take our order. And just as The Spouse and I have seen happen countless times before, once we were ready to order, she was nowhere to be found, and we waited nearly 10 minutes for her return.
The appetizer lineup was novel at least. Items include stuffed banana peppers, zucchini fritters and Bibb lettuce wraps. The Spouse and I started with fried green tomatoes with a twist — a panko-based crust and a roasted red pepper aioli for dipping.
Most of the selections are either entrees or sandwiches, with a few greens-based choices like the Strawberry Field Salad and the Secret City chicken salad available as well.
The Spouse chose char-grilled chicken thighs over the likes of boneless twin pork chops and an oven-roasted half chicken. (Daily specials included a seven-ounce filet, an eight-ounce sirloin and grilled salmon.) The Spouse's side choices were grilled zucchini and glazed carrots.
I was in the mood for a burger and decided to try the smoked Gouda burger, featuring grass-fed beef, Sweetwater Valley cheese, fresh spinach leaves and caramelized onions. I added mashed potatoes as my side. Other bread-filling selections include a pimento cheeseburger, grilled chicken, black and blue chicken, and a grilled apple, bacon and brie sandwich.
The fried green tomatoes came out first, and I enjoyed them much, although The Spouse is more of a breading-loving purist. A plate of five thick slices, all heavily coated in panko crust, was an overwhelming portion for two. But the tangy 'maters were delish, with and without the aioli sauce. We barely made a dent in the presentation.
The main course did not disappoint either — for the most part. The burger was outstanding, from the fresh soft buns to the smoky, savory beef and the thick slab of Gouda cheese. The chicken thighs were favorably seasoned and quite juicy, and the fresh vegetables were both treats. The only qualification to my food kudos is that the mashed potatoes were dry and not nearly warm enough.
My other beef for the evening was with the service. Having our waitress double as hostess was a disservice to us. Once our food was delivered, we never saw her again until it was time for dishes to be cleared. I also could have used a drink refill much earlier.
At least we went out with a bang thanks to two awesome desserts — a hefty serving of homemade banana pudding and a moist portion of Coco Lopez-style coconut cake. It's my favorite cake, and Market House is the first restaurant I've ever found that offers it.
Maybe on our next visit, our luck of the wait-staff draw will be as favorable as our impression of the food.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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