Zoe’s Kitchen

Written by on December 3, 2011 in I Eat America, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(zoeskitchen.com) – Ballston neighborhood, Arlington, Virginia

How I heard of this place: I first noticed Zoe’s while walking by an otherwise dull and drab Ballston street corner several months back. This time, however, the vibrant colors and attractive, bold stripes captured my attention. I mentioned the new establishment to Chris and, other than adding it to our list of places to eat out in our neighborhood, we knew nothing else of Zoe’s Kitchen. Having taken a job not far from Zoe’s newest location, I was offered a coupon by one of the staff within their first week of opening. Again, I held onto the coupon, but we did little about it. Creating our budget meant that we were eating at home more, cooking for ourselves, and trying our best to remain healthy. And then my friend and colleague, Darrius, offered me two more coupons for free entrees or sandwiches at Zoe’s Kitchen. He tempted me more (working at Zoe’s part-time) each time he would bring in take-away containers of chicken kabob skewers with vegetables and rice, hummus and pita bread. Yum. It is finally our turn. 

Type of cuisine: Mediterranean comfort food. “Zoës Kitchen is a natural extension of Zoë Cassimus’ lifetime of cooking for family and friends. Inspired by Zoë’s original recipes and her simple, fresh-from-the-garden sensibility, we start every day by making the food from scratch onsite at each restaurant. Our dishes are wholesome; our portions generous. It’s Mediterranean-inspired comfort food with customers’ dietary concerns in mind–nothing fried with gluten-free and vegetarian options. Zoë means “life” in Greek. Why not live it to the fullest with tasty food shared among close friends and family?”…“Life” as we know it.

Ambiance: As mentioned above, the bright coloring of the red-backed sign above the establishment, with block lettering in black-outlined white letters reading zoes KITCHEN attract, especially on the dark and grey days of winter. The orange, purple, yellow and green toned awnings, and the matching, brightly colored umbrellas, one in each color: mint green, orange, brown, covering the outdoor patio seating, already made our venture out on this cold day that much more exciting. The wrought iron fence around the patio holds ten tables, with seating at round, square and rectangular tables for parties of four or pairs of two. Walking through the first set of glass doors, and into the foyer, we see a brightly colored red with white polka-dot and green-striped table cloth promoting some of Zoe’s selections – menus, catering ideas, email list cards and a fishbowl for business cards to win lunch for 10! The glass encased foyer leads us into another door, at the left, which brings us into the long, rectangular space we now know as Zoe’s Kitchen. Walls around the restaurant boast the same color scheme of the awnings outside, with bright oranges, yellows, greens and reds, in bold, thick, striped patterns. Barquettes lined with reusable, plastic Zoe’s cups line each making for more color to show through the windows. To our right, another barquette with cups at either end hosts bright green, plastic backed stools where patrons can enjoy their meal while staring at a vibrant wall rather than passerby. The kitchen can be found directly behind the order counter, which is clean, clear and clutter-free. Back-lit menus, four in total, above head can be easily read with their enticing pictures and clear, bold block lettering. Directly in front of the cash register are individually packaged, large pieces of chocolate cake and huge oatmeal cookies. Filling out the Zoe’s Mail card gets you a free cup (the same as those found in the window), which also allows for $0.99 soda fountain beverages upon each visit. A hexagonal vat of homemade limeade also awaits. To the right of the registers, as we make our way towards the seating area at the far end of the rectangle to our right, is the case of ready to eat and drink pre-packaged goods. Everything from Fuze beverages to bottled water and juices, from chicken salad to pasta and potato salads, pimento cheese, hummus, fresh fruit and marinated slaw can be purchased for sit down or take-away. Continuing down the long, narrow path, we come to the grand upward open spaces (tall ceilings), to our left is the Coca-Cola beverage fountain, and vats of iced tea: sweetened, unsweetened, and hibiscus (unsweetened green tea). Taller, light-colored tables with green, plastic stools can be found at the beginning of the seating area. As we make our way back through the vibrant, brightly colored space, we come across an intimate booth seating area, four bold-colored paintings in single hues on the wall behind. Continuing along, smaller booths for parties of two squish up against the wood-paneled (bottom half) walls. The tiled floors lead us to a space of more white tables, each with matching sets of sea salt grinders, mixed peppercorn grinders and Zoe’s Kitchen Greek Dressing. At these tables, orange, plastic chairs keep bottoms warm while patrons dine. More two-person booths line the wall side of the establishment, and at the back, dark orange-colored, cushioned backed booths lay against the wall, with orange chairs at their front. Overall, the lines of space are clean, bright, and well-presented.

Zoes Kitchen

What I ordered: Generally speaking, when I have a coupon for a free entree of choice at any establishment, my eyes immediately fall to the most expensive options (eh hem). And while nearly everything on the menu sounded tasty and the smells wafting out of the kitchen were to die for, being the first two customers in line when they opened their doors at 11:00 Saturday morning, we just could not make up our minds. And then it hit us. Chris was immediately attracted to the Gruben (Zoe’s favorite) with grilled turkey, Swiss cheese, slaw, and spicy mustard on toasted rye bread.

Greuben

The Tomato Bisque also caught Chris’s attention and he was referred to the PICK TWO! ($6.29) Enjoying half of a classic sandwich (but somehow he ended up with the whole sandwich) and his choice of soup, side, Greek salad or dessert.

Tomato Soup

Knowing how good the chicken kabobs are, and being another of Zoe’s favorites, and wanting Chris to taste them, I went with the Chicken Kabob plate ($8.95) which included two kabob skewers of cubed chicken interspersed with grilled cherry tomatoes, grilled peppers and onions, a side of rice pilaf and a Greek salad.

Chicken Kabobs

Four triangles of pita bread also graced my plate, for which we requested a sample of their hummus.

Sample of Hummus

They say the kitchen is the heart and soul of the home. You might say fresh ingredients are the heart and soul of Zoës Kitchen. Our tasty, Mediterranean-inspired recipes originate from the southern kitchen of founder Zoë Cassimus, drawing from her Greek heritage. Today, everything is still made fresh daily. We invite you to open our menu. Explore our aromatic, satisfying lunch and dinner items and our convenient meal options. Since our stores, just like our customers, are unique in their own way, we suggest that you enter your zip code and go directly to what is sure to become your favorite, neighborhood Zoës Kitchen.”

On a return visit, Tuesday, December 13, 2011Having been thinking about the Shrimp Kabobs ($9.95) since we knew we were coming back, I had to do it! A plate of two well-seasoned, charbroiled shrimp kabobs interspersed with half-moon slices of grilled zucchini and served over rice pilaf, cucumber and red onion raita and a side Greek salad with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, green bell pepper, cucumber, kalamata olives, feta cheese and a pepperoncini and three pita triangles on the side.

Shrimp Kabobs with Rice

One of my dining companions selected the same, accompanied by a soda ($1.79). Although he had been dreaming of the Chicken Kabobs from our last visit, my husband chose the Grilled Chicken Dinner ($8.95), a seasoned and charbroiled chicken breast served with roasted fresh vegetables (broccoli, red onion, sliced mushrooms and carrots) as well as a bowl of braised white beans.

Chicken Dinner

He selected a cup of fresh squeezed limeade ($1.99), made with fresh limes and sweetened with cane sugar. Having received a complimentary beverage, we also partook of a caffeine-free Diet Coke with freshly squeezed lemon juice from two wedges.

On a return visit, Friday, December 23, 2011Three of us ventured back to Zoe’s for a pre-long-weekend meal. My two companions each ordered the Chicken Kabobs ($8.95 each), and I went for something new: Steak Roll-Ups ($8.39).

Steak Roll-Ups

The sliced tri-tip, Swiss cheese and caramelized onions were rolled together in Zoe’s flatbread, resembled a wrap, and grilled to melty, gooey perfection. A mayonnaise-based dipping sauce was also offered, along with a side salad of choice. After sampling the chunky baby red potatoes in a non-mayo-based dressing and being highly impressed, I stuck with the Greek Salad, due to its lightness against the slightly heavier tri-tip wraps.

On a return visit, Tuesday, January 10, 2011: Okay, I admit, we have eaten here a few more times with our free entree vouchers, but the meals were repeats and I chose to save my time and energy for a day when we actually tried something new.

Shrimp Kabobs

On this call-in and pick-up order, courtesy of our new friend Catrina, I selected the Grilled Shrimp Salad ($9.65), with charbroiled shrimp, roasted zucchini, white beans, greens, feta cheese, diced cucumber and tomato dressed in Zoes Kitchen house dressing, with a small side of creamy Greek yogurt. Chris knew immediately that he was interested in the Chicken Roll-Ups ($7.59), tortillas filled with feta cheese, lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, salsa for dipping and a side of mayonnaise-free potato salad. On this venture, I do have to say that, even though I was craving a salad, I was most impressed (and wished there was more of) with Chris’s dinner! Thank you for the samples, Chris!

On a return visit, Thursday, February 2, 2012: My friend, Kent was visiting and we decided to partake of our last free entree coupons at Zoes Kitchen for a bite to eat. Kent selected Chris’s favorite: Steak Rollups with a Side Potato Salad ($8.39), while I was steered away from the pizza and towards the Greek Chicken Pita ($7.39).

Greek Chicken Pita

I selected a side of Roasted Vegetables (broccoli, red onion, carrots and mushrooms) to accompany my half-pita with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions and feta cheese. Finding the pita combination slightly dry, I requested a side of the steak roll-up, yogurt-based sauce to help it go down more smoothly.

What I loved: The hummus was soft and creamy, yet lacked the flavor of tahini that I love so much, and the soup was warm and creamy, yet completely saturated with salt. “Even Inoticed the over-abundance of salt, and I love salt!” was my husbands reaction. While, yes, the food did have a bit more sodium than we have grown accustomed to, on my lunch plate the chicken kabobs stole the show. Of course, no bite of kabob was complete without a roasted vegetable on the fork, so the combination is what did it for us. That being said, the Gruben was probably the highlight of our entire meal! A delicious and spicy treat, we thoroughly enjoyed every bite!

Why I loved it: Simple food. Great prices. Colorful ambiance. Friendly staff. Delicious – in every way.

Cost: Low to average ($6.29-$9.95 per sandwich or entree)

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