By: Laurie Wallin
Capital Cooking Contributor
Looking for a fresh taste of the Mediterranean served with a side of Southern Hospitality? Then look no further than Zoës Kitchen, with locations popping up all over the DC area. I visited the Ballston location and was pleased to find a family-friendly eatery that prides itself on simple, convenient and tasty recipes that embraces the Mediterranean way of life – that a fulfilling, happy life is one that is shared with family, friends, and eating wholesome, fresh ingredients.
Zoës Kitchen is based on Zoë Cassimus' lifetime of cooking for family and entertaining friends. Zoë was born in the Mediterranean and raised in the South, and Zoës Kitchen’s menu is inspired by her family recipes and simple, fresh-from-the garden perspective – 75% of the menu features recipes from her home kitchen. I had the opportunity to sample a number of dishes from Zoës menu and they certainly live up to these standards. I began with the hummus and pita bread – Zoës is a light garlic hummus that is light and delicious, and the pita bread was nicely toasted but still soft.
Zoës Kitchen features a number of sandwiches on the menu. The Pimento Cheese sandwich on rye with lettuce and tomato was a nice version of a grown-up grilled cheese with the heat of the pimento cooled nicely by the lettuce and tomato. The Chicken Salad sandwich featured a lightly-dressed mayo-based chicken salad with all-white meat chicken. This chicken salad was nice in that the mayonnaise was not overwhelming but just enough to hold the chicken salad together. I also sampled the Gruben with grilled turkey, swiss, slaw and spicy mustard on rye, which was grilled and nicely elevated the sandwich. All sandwiches come with a fresh side, and I sampled the quinoa salad, braised white beans, potato salad and pasta salad. I loved the lemon vinaigrette that perfectly complemented the earthy quinoa, the rosemary that accented the beans, the olive-oil potato salad that didn’t make me miss mayo one bit, and the feta that added creaminess to the pasta salad.
Zoës also features entrees. I sampled the Chicken Kabobs, which were incredibly juicy and nicely seasoned. The Spinach roll-ups were crispy (grilled, not fried) and I had mine with chicken, although these are vegetarian-based. One of my favorite dishes was the Shrimp Kabobs, which featured sweet shrimp alternating with grilled zucchini on top of an Orzo “Tabouli” salad (this salad also comes on its own).
While Zoës is great for lunch, they sell wine and beer, which provides an additional reason to visit for dinner. The Ballston location is decorated in sunny stripes, which is a throwback to the Founder’s son’s nursery. The location is airy and bright, decorated with images that are unique to the Ballston location, and features an airy patio. Going along with “live Mediterranean,” they feature ‘real’ plates and silverware, will bring your food to you, clean up when you leave and encourage you to linger and spend time with family and friends. For those who are unable to linger, they offer a number of items "to go" to increase the convenience for their customers. I definitely plan to “live Mediterranean” more often after this visit!