When this chain of health-minded fast-casual restaurants started hitting the Atlanta area, I got an email from its publicist warning me to pay close attention to the spelling of its name – Zoës Kitchen — dieresis over the “e,” no apostrophe. No explanation was given, which left me wondering if there was one Zoë or two behind this restaurant chain, or just an O.C.D. typographer designing the logo.
In fact there is just one Zoë Cassimus, who opened a small cafe in a Birmingham suburb about 20 years ago. By all accounts she had a knack for presenting the cooking of her Greek heritage within the framework of a comfortable Southern café — a place where chicken salad and pimento cheese coexist comfortably with Greek salads, kabobs and hummus.
Cassimus’ son, John, would help to open more company-owned and franchised locations. It has been a successful venture, and the company is now majority owned by a Los Angeles private equity firm. There are now outlets in 15 states, with six around Atlanta. I visited the Emory Village branch.
Should the current owners push the origin story of the nice Greek-American lady in Homewood, Ala., with an aversion to possessive adjectives? Probably not. It’s a pretty anonymous entity this restaurant chain has grown into. You’re not looking for a relationship here, just a non gut-busting lunch.
I like the easygoing way the menu provides healthier options without hectoring. The “Grüben” subs out grilled turkey for corned beef and replaces the Russian dressing with spicy mustard. Sounds good — better probably than those oddly presented chicken kabobs. Decent flavor, but cold in the center as if they had been precooked and not quite heated to order. I picked at the orzo and Greek salads on the plate, which reminded me of food from a decent hotel buffet.
My kid enjoyed this steak roll-up with Swiss cheese mushrooms and caramelized onions, served here with a side of hummus. It was like a tricked-out 3-D quesadilla, with enough cheese strands to encourage another bite.
After one visit, I’m thinking Zoës Kitchen doesn’t quite hit the Greek/Mediterranean button as well as I’d like, but it could be useful when lunch needs to happen in a reasonably tasty manner without too many calories or fat grams.
Think of it this way: It would be a great alternative to that cheeseburger served at the restaurant next door that you really want. You don’t need the cheeseburger, and you really don’t need the fries. Get thee to Zoës, but bring your own apostrophe.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog