Preview of Campo from Chef Mark Estee

Sep 7th, 2011
By Clint Jolly

Chef Mark Estee describes Campo as a neighborhood restaurant. But, this isn’t your local Applebee’s. If I had to describe the new spot, opening mid October in the Palladio building, in one word it would be “whole”. As in whole foods, whole experience and whole hog.

Whole Foods

3 kitchen areas will be turning out pizzas, pasta, paninis, subs, salads and a full lunch and dinner menu. Each item will be made from scratch. Let’s take pizza for example. Dough, made daily, is topped with fresh sauce, house made mozzarella and your choice of salumis, pancetta and other charcuterie treats all made in house. This isn’t going to be just another pie house though. Chef Mark has become the only chef in Northern Nevada to gain certification from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), an elite group of master pizzaiolos that conform to strict standards in every pizza to ensure the quality, flavor and tradition of genuine thin crust Neapolitan style pizza is carried on.

Whole Experience

The restaurant will feature 4 dining areas to offer customers a variety of intimacy and atmosphere. Walk up the steps onto the large patio overlooking the river where a fire pit and couches invite you to sit and relax for a bit (coming next spring). Entering the door, you will see the bar area and its communal tables. These will be the relaxed social area to gather with friends and enjoy the variety of cocktails and wine on tap. To the right will be the restaurant’s quick service area offering grab and go breakfast snacks, paninis, salads and old world style coffee. Tucked into the corner are the two flagship pieces of equipment- the wood fired dome pizza oven and the salumi cave, both on a container from Naples, Italy as we speak.

Take a few steps into the restaurant and you are greeted by a hostess that will seat you in one of two other dining areas. In the middle of the restaurant, with a birds eye view of the chef’s table and the main open kitchen, are rows of semi private booths. Just past the booths and to the left there is the more “formal” dining room with windows looking out onto Sierra Street.

Really, the word formal is too strict for the atmosphere I feel this eatery will have. As Mark describes it as a neighborhood restaurant, I see it as a place that’s perfectly acceptable for a business meeting at lunch and cocktails with friends for dinner. It’s really about immersing the customer in the food experience. With kitchens all around and enough dining choices to make you slow down and think for a minute, they are building a food experience.

Whole Hog

Coming from a family of butchers, I have to appreciate anyone who takes the time to pay homage to the old world style of meat procurement. With Campo’s salumi cave, multiple menus and do it all mentality, they are going whole hog on the butchering. A butcher’s block will be tucked into a back corner of the kitchen. Not visible from inside the restaurant but perfectly visible from the street. The neon pig in the window will signal passers by to perk up and pay attention to the process of transforming a whole animal into delectable dinner cuts.

From the butchery they will produce everything from their dinner items to the salumi and charcuterie featured on pizzas and subs. That means complete control over every aspect of production. It also means that they will be providing a food experience seldom seen outside of bigger cities.

The man himself

I had the pleasure of sitting with Chef Mark Estee over a beer (non-alcoholic for him, a welcome site in the food world) and getting to know him a bit better. His new venture made sense as he shared the story of is long career in the foodservice world. Starting as a young teenager washes dishes, then moving upstairs as a short order cook in Boston gave him the desire to change the world around him through food. A bit of a break to play college football then onto Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island gave him the book smarts to earn his ranks in the kitchen. After graduation it was a half decade long position with Hyatt that brought him out west. Working in Tahoe and San Francisco with well known names rounded out his culinary training and had him ready to open his first restaurant, Moody’s in Truckee, a decade ago. Burger Me in Truckee and now Reno followed.

The man is overflowing with passion about his new project. He gave me a tour of the space, with walls barely up to outline the areas, about six weeks before opening. His Greek and Italian heritage came out as he used his hands to form silhouettes of equipment in the air. The placement of each element has been carefully thought out to guide guests through the experience. Upon entering, he said “We’re going to come in here and light this place up. I’ll be here 7 days a week in the kitchen.”

No doubt he will spend a good amount of that time at his chef’s table, placed right in the middle of the restaurant with an open view of the front door, the kitchen and dining rooms. This is where he will radiate his energy and passion for amazing food to folks that appreciate someone going the extra step. Mark thinks about food as more than a meal, it’s an experience. And it is his vision to share that with Reno through Campo.

Bookmark their website (still under construction) and go LIKE them on Facebook to stay up to date with Downtown’s newest hotspot.

Chef Clint Jolly is a Reno native who has spent most his life in the search of great food. The owner of Great Thyme Catering is happy to see a food revolution taking place in Reno and northern Nevada. You can read more from Clint on his personal blog

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