15 March, 2011


Most people that know me are aware of the fact that I ABHOR "chain" restaurants.  NOW...I TOTALLY get that they got there by being wonderful at what they do OR by having a totally kick butt menu.  I get it, really...I get it.  But, I have seen time and time again establishments that have all the luxury of being able to use the name and then something important is lacking.  Be it service, food quality or overall customer satisfaction.  I could name a couple chains, but you get my point.  I avoid them like the plague.

I had never heard of Zoe's Kitchen.  I'm from Duluth, MN....stationed in Oklahoma City, OK and before that, stationed in O'Fallon, IL....no Zoe's Kitchen for MILES around.  So, I thought I was on the verge of discovering something.  Not so...Zoe's was discovered LONG ago in Birmingham, AL.  From their birth 16 years ago up to now, they have over 45 locations in operation and are about to open another in Tuscaloosa, AL

The vibe you get from the outside looking in is that you're about to walk into an average cafe/bistro type place.  Even in a "cafe" type atmosphere, if they are open evenings, I look for certain things to be JUST right.  I am a lighting freak...it stems from my 15 years experience as a photographer and hating the way studio shots look compared to things taken outside with natural light from the sun.  It makes me itch...don't know why.  I was pleasantly surprised at the contemporary look and feel inside.  You know me...the booth junkie....yeah, they had booths...they had everything.  Tables for 6 or more intimate tables for 2...even BOOTHS for 2...and patio seating for small or large groups as well.  Fabulous!!


Couples Booths

Enough room for a crowd

As soon as I came face to face with the menu it was Indecision 2011 in there.  My Mister never takes too long to figure his gig out, but I always, ALWAYS struggle.  I asked the all important question..."What's your most popular item on the menu?"  The reply was, "Chicken Salad...."  OH, COME ON!!  "A salad?  Really?", I said sheepishly.  "No…it is a sandwich", she replied.  My mind went into overdrive, "Hmmm....I DO love a good chicken salad sandwich.  But, you wanted something warm.  Oh, all this stuff comes with sides too!  Let's see here....beans??  What???  Whatever...  AH HA!  Potato Salad w/ baby reds...NO MAYO....hmmm....that sounds like it'll be a total hit or a total DUD.  I'm gettin' that."  I worked my way to the entree that way.  I settled on the Spinach Roll-Ups and went with the "add Grilled Chicken" option.  It came with fresh salsa on the side

Spinach Roll-Ups w/ Grilled Chicken

First bite...the tortilla wrap was crisp, the chicken was nice and tender; not over cooked, and the sun dried tomato was meaty; providing a sweet undertone to the spinach and mushroom.  I was diggin' it.  I would glance every once in a while at the potato salad, but hadn't payed much attention to it.  I forgot there was no mayo in it.  Silly me...

While we were enjoying our entrees...and I mean we had them for about 4 minutes...the manager on duty came by with 2 platters of food.  Earlier, after I ordered, the manager had given me permission to take some shots inside; sight unseen.  So when he came out and greeted us WITH extra food, I was taken aback.  He brought us 2 items off the side list and 2 of the sandwich fillings....

L-R - Chicken Salad, Braised White Beans and Hummus w/ Pita

We were overwhelmed with the generosity.  When he mentioned the Braised White Beans I had NO problem admitting that when I looked at the menu; everything was Mediterranean and seemed to have a nice fresh, light feel to it; beans just didn't seem to fit.  My mind pictured them....all I could think was "heavy" and didn't look at the beans again.  But I tried those first.  What a pleasant surprise!  The fresh rosemary in them REALLY gave it a deeper dimension of flavor and the sauce wasn't too thick and cumbersome for the beans.  I would order those beans next time...no question.  It had a very smooth taste combination.  Hummus came next...I'm a hummus fanatic.  I love it...but...just like a sister friend of mine, if given access to a container of hummus...you're getting it back empty.  That's why I didn't mess with that...no amount of hummus would have been enough, so I didn't any.  Their hummus was plain, but not grainy and there weren't oodles of chunks all over in it.  Sometimes in restaurant hummus....it can turn into a HOT mess.  The pita chips they served with it had a bit of garlic roasted in which brought the flavor to the bite that the hummus needed.  Zoe's did well with their hummus.   The chicken salad flavors were good, but I had texture issues with it.  The chicken was pulverized.  This makes for a sandwich that won't get all over your shirt during lunch, but it feels weird on my tongue.  My Mister agreed.

In the mean time I started tryin out my "no mayo" potato salad.  It was some of the best potato salad I've ever had.  It was simple, fresh, cool, and light on the tummy.  The real test is the son factor.  My son looked at it from his high chair and pointed...in "toddler speak" this means "I wanna try that Momma."  I indulged the sprout.  He opened wide...chewed, swallowed and wanted MORE.  Our son is as picky of an eater as they come.  The way he reacted to it was "nuff said" for us.  This salad is a winner!  Congrats, you have NO idea how hard it is to please our child....AND his Momma.

L-R - Pimento Cheese, Roasted Fresh Vegetables & Hummus w/ Pita
I didn't try the Pimento Cheese sandwich filling at all.  It just isn't something that appeals to me at all.  My Mister tried it and said that it tasted "kinda like pepper jack" and felt like they added some spice to it for an extra kick making it stand out from your "run-of-the-mill" pimento cheese.  The star of this plate hands down was the Roasted Fresh Vegetables.  All of the vegetables were tender crisp, they tasted like themselves (sometimes when you cook a bunch of veggies together, they can take on the flavor of the stronger items.  ie, carrot might taste a little like broccoli...) and roasting really brought out the natural sweetness and rustic flavors that usually go undiscovered.  Roasting is one of THE best ways to bring out flavor in most veggies, so Zoe's hit that one out of the park!

We were filled to the BRIM when we left last night.  There wasn't room for another single bite.  But they had a dessert menu, you KNOW I looked.  Of course I did.

Ya Ya's Handmade Chocolate Cake & Pita Chips
HUGE Chocolate Chip Cookies & Oatmeal Cookies

Zoe's Kitchen is a place I would frequent if I lived in the Montgomery area year 'round.  Their menu is full of healthy choices, most items are made fresh to order and what is already made is ready up front for you to grab n go if that's what you need.  Zoe's caters, they have tubs of sandwich spreads to go...there's no end to how easy they can make it on you to eat their food at home or on the go.  Don't be a chain hater like I was...try Zoe's out, I bet they'll keep you coming back for more.

Zoe's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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