It’s cool to eat veggies. Don’t believe me? Mosey over to Mayfaire and snatch a spot in line at Zoës Kitchen before the lunchtime mob strikes. The healthful, Grecian-inspired eatery is convincing fast-food fanatics everywhere to do a double take when it comes to dining.
Hey, I love fried things with cheese just as much as the next chick—but I equally dig nutritious dishes because they make me feel good inside and out. Zoës is on a mission to promote “simple, fresh-from-the-garden sensibility,” and they’ve certainly hit the kale on the head. This family-friendly chain may be a far stretch from the hidden, local gems (brimming with craft beer and carbs) I typically opt to review, but that doesn’t make the food any less craveable.
I’m no chickpea connoisseur, but when it comes to hummus, I know creamy is king. A healthful feast arrives with Zoës hummus trio appetizer—a mixture of three signature spreads, pita chips, pita bread, and veggies. The red pepper hummus offers a hint of sweetness and sports a vibrant dollop of roasted peppers in the middle. The classic hummus spreads like silk, and is flavored with hints of lemon and tahini. For garlic fanatics, the dunking zone of choice will likely be the basil pesto hummus—which is smooth, herby and enhanced with an oniony zip. All three dips swirl in fruity olive oil as light as air. Although the crispy baked homemade pita chips are mildly addictive, props to Zoës for throwing sliced veggies onto the platter and attempting to up my green game.
Dawdling in “Zoës Appetizer Land” will not be problematic. Their tomato bisque healthfully gratifies many comfort-food needs. The thick, tomatoey mixture comes with a savory blend of fresh, fragrant basil and sharp garlic. Each sip of the luscious soup produces a lingering spark of heat, keeping me spooning for more. And I did. And I’m not sorry.
Before we get into the bulk of the meal, let me say the following: The majority of Zoës menu is made up of Americanized versions of Mediterranean fare. Cravings for authentic Greek specialties—horiatiki, lamb gyros, tzatziki—will leave diners barking up the wrong olive tree. Don’t think of Zoës as a place to experience traditional cultural cuisine; it’s simply an inexpensive wholesome eating establishment. Its menu is based on the foundation of lean proteins and fresh flavors.
Their tossed Greek salad provides a generous assortment of greens, grilled chicken, caramelized onions, and pasta salad. The clamped shape of the shells act as a perfect prison for trapping salty feta and other goodies. The grilled chicken tastes like actual, juicy, tender chicken breast—which isn’t always common at quick-serve joints. The house dressing—which word on the streets (of Mayfaire…) is a fan favorite—provides a wonderful, simple mixture of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, herbs and fresh lemon juice.
I won’t name names here, but Wilmington has a quaint little natural foods market which serves up a superstar version of Greek-style tuna salad. Something similar appears on Zoës lineup—”Mediterranean Tuna Pita.” The whole wheat pocket is a good option to go with after making a pile of white pita chips disappear (no, I don’t regret it). Enter: my first mistake. The exterior of the wheat pita is flimsy and falls apart (I’m still picking capers out of my shoes). Zoës menu also clearly states that the sandwich comes sans mayo—so, needless to say, it’s a bit dry. A smear of dressing, maybe a handful of feta, and a stable shell would do wonders for this not-so-handheld-sammie.
Another minor disappointment: their chicken salad. It’s featured in several menu items. Sampling it solo might have been a fault on my part, as when mixed with other textures, it may be quite tasty. I’m a chicken salad traditionalist—as listed on my business card—so when it comes to components, I’m not looking for anything fancy (I’m talking to you, grapes). But Zoës might want to crank up the volume on this one. If I’m unclear on whether or not I see celery—Houston, we have a problem. Even the plainest of eaters usually prefer some crunch, spice or onion in chicken salad.
As for consistency, heartier shreds would have been a plus. This chicken took a few too many rides in the food processor. Again, if complemented by crunchy lettuce shreds and fluffy 7-grain bread, well, maybe it works.
Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? Two words: steak kabobs. The meaty morsels are juicy, smoky and seasoned just right. Once again—not what I expect from a casual chain café. The substantial meal is great quality for its value and comes with two sides, one being crisp, elegantly roasted veggies. Perfectly charred peppers and onions are nestled onto each steak skewer. The price, portion and potatoes (seriously, the potatoes) are on point.
Did I mention potatoes? One pile of the scallion-dotted starches will have every eater wishing she saved seconds for tomorrow’s breakfast.
For a familiar, nutritious meal enhanced by the fresh flavors of the Mediterranean, Zoës does a body good. It’s that time of year where new changes in diet mean skipping the sub and burger shops for something more nutritious. Zoës is that place. It provides a convenient bite before the movies, maybe even a quick, light dinner (and ensuring plenty of room for Goobers—ya know, for that cheat night).
Wow! That was a lot of free advice. Don’t forget to tip your food reviewer!