Italian on the cheap 

If you work downtown it's really easy to tire of the dining options offered by the River Market. The recent addition of Pasta Jack's Italian gives you one more option to eventually get burned out on, but if you've already had three gyros this week, if Fat Sam's isn't doing it for you anymore or if a salad and soup at Boulevard just won't hit the spot today, Pasta Jack's is a solid alternative.

The small Italian eatery sits in the southeast corner of the River Market, in the space formerly occupied by Hunka Pie. There are also two other locations in Benton and Bryant.

Jack's is a simple storefront, basically a kitchen with a counter, but maybe the low overhead is one reason Jack's isn't very expensive. You place your order and pay at the counter and then take a seat until the food comes up. Jack's staff was very friendly and went the extra step of coming out to our table after we got our food to make sure we had everything we needed.

If you order an appetizer, like we did, it will likely come out at the same time as your meal. The stuffed mushrooms ($4.25) are a great start. Other options for starters include garlic bread and cheese toast. The mushrooms came out hot and stuffed with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Rich indeed, but very tasty and satisfying.

For the main course we tried a smattering of pasta selections. The lunch deal is a bargain at $5.95. That gets you a meal-sized heap of pasta, a slice of Texas Toast-style garlic bread and side salad that's big enough to warrant its own styrofoam container.

The spaghetti and meatballs weren't the best we've ever had, but the dish hit the spot. The pasta came al dente, just right. The marinara had a nice consistency, neither too thick nor too runny, and didn't taste like it came out of a can. The dense meatballs that came with our spaghetti were well-spiced, and everything came with a healthy sprinkle of freshly ground parmesan.

The chicken and tomato “specialty pasta” ($7.25) was simple but good — tomatoes and garlic chicken served with linguine in a butter sauce. There was plenty of chicken in the mix, unlike what you might expect at a larger chain restaurant where the amount of pasta can outweigh additional ingredients. Although it was a bit oily for our taste, it was seasoned with just enough garlic and basil to nicely gratify the palate without overpowering it. The strength of the dish was in the size of the portion, which, though the meal itself was fairly light, could accommodate a big appetite with leftovers to spare.

The alfredo sauce in the chicken alfredo ($9) was a standout, way better than something you'd find at an Olive Garden, but not quite up to par with, say, Bruno's or Cafe Prego. The side of garlic bread is a nice touch, although we found it to be strangely dry considering the amount of butter that came with it.

Pasta Jack's is a nice addition to an already-diverse selection of choices in the River Market. Ristorante Capeo it ain't, but for a quick Italian lunch, it's a pretty good bet. Nothing is remarkable, but everything is solid and for the price and the portion sizes — you're going to have leftovers — it truly is a bargain lunch spot.

Pasta Jack's Italian
400 President Clinton Ave.

Quick bite
The stuffed mushroom appetizer is pretty killer. If you don't have enough room for all of that, the lunch special, complete with salad and garlic bread, will take care of even the biggest cravings.

10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Other info
Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.


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