Remember the '90s?
Munch does, with surprising clarity, seeing as Munch often cannot remember what Munch had for breakfast.
But back in the '90s, there was the Italian Oven. Munch loved that chain. The specially made pizza ovens, the white, black and red tiles and the big pieces of paper the company used as tablecloths. Young or old, you could sit down with a cup of crayons and keep yourself busy while you talked and waited for your fried zucchini (but more on those later).
But it expanded way too quickly, sold food too cheaply and went into bankruptcy too late to repair the damage.
Here we are a good dozen years later, and an Italian Oven is open in Brentwood -- not just open, but thriving.
Unlike the IO's of old, this is more of a cross between a Panera and a bistro, where you walk in, order and pay cafeteria-style, and then they bring the food to you.
The distinctive tile is gone, as is the paper on the tables. Instead, there is black and chrome. The entire decor is modern and sleek. Gone is the picture of the rotund pizza guy with the chef's hat. The reason is that the Brentwood version of Italian Oven is owned by the original franchisor, while the still-open Somerset version is owned by the people who started the Italian Oven.
But still, for a few minutes after Munch walked in, Munch was left dumbstruck by the decor.
So, how did Munch confirm that this was an Italian Oven? The answer was found in the zucchini.
Munch remembers growing up in a family that every year made the mistake of planting not just one zucchini plant, which would have produced enough zucchini to rot on the counter for the rest of the fall, but four zucchini plants. Family of Munch would engage in stealth zucchini operations during the night. Sure, we pretended we were playing flashlight tag or kick the can, but really, we were secretly stashing zucchini on our neighbors' doorsteps for them to discover and feel compelled to eat.
For $7.99 Munch and Munch's Best Date split an order of fried zucchini. Munch had once again found the zucchini of the '90s. MBD then dumped about a pound of parmesan cheese on them and they were even better. After they were dipped in a horseradish sauce, why, Munch hardly noticed there was zucchini there at all.
MBD ordered the grilled chicken over greens ($9.99), which was exactly as advertised.
For a main course, in retrospect, Munch should have gotten the pizza, but instead was in the mood for chicken marsala ($9.99), which was served with a side salad. Both the grilled chicken salad and the chicken marsala were served with a slice of flatbread -- pizza given just a sprinkling of cheese before it is baked, that was quite crispy. The chicken marsala had a good bit of chicken, but way too much sauce, which was a bit greasy.
Munch was too full for dessert and looked toward that hill Munch had climbed to get to the restaurant as nothing -- Munch could just roll back down.