My ears always prick up a little whenever I hear of a new Mediterranean-food restaurant coming to town. Such was the case with Zoës Kitchen, an Alabama-based chain of fast-casual eateries that recently opened its first Knoxville location on Bearden Hill. The menu is based on a philosophy of making Mediterranean-inspired comfort foods from scratch, on site, and then serving them in generous portions.
The Grub Spouse and I stepped in to discover a bright and inviting space, notable primarily for its bright array of wall colors and ultramodern furnishings, fixtures and decor. Menus in hand, we stood near the head of the queue for a few minutes as we studied their selections and devised a dining strategy.
I should say up front that by "Mediterranean" cuisine, Zoës means "Greek." I was hoping that more Middle-Eastern items might have been on the menu, but they were not. However, warm-ups like Greek and tabouli salads as well as chicken and orzo soup piqued our palatal interest early. For a starter, we instead chose the hummus and pita.
As for a main course, we could have gone in any number of directions. Classic sandwiches include chicken salad, tuna salad and pimento cheese, while pita sandwiches are filled with the likes of grilled chicken and slaw, Greek chicken and albacore. I was a little disappointed that there were no lamb-based options here.
One of the grilled sandwiches, the Grüben is a Reuben variation made with grilled turkey, Swiss, slaw and spicy mustard on rye. While intriguing, I went with the Steak Stack — sliced steak, portobello mushrooms, mozzarella, caramelized onions, feta spread, tomato and Rosemary oil on sourdough bread. As my side selection, I picked pasta salad.
The Spouse looked over the main entrees, which include a variety of roll-ups, chicken dishes, pizzas and kabobs. The Spouse chose the chicken kabobs — billed as one of Zoës favorites — which come with rice pilaf and a side Greek salad.
After ordering at the counter and settling into a booth for two, a server brought our food out a few minutes later. My first impression was that the serving sizes were indeed fair, especially considering the meal's $23 price tag. We learned after the fact that we could have had the hummus served first, as an appetizer course, but we weren't aware of that. Nevertheless, the hummus was creamy, rich in chickpea and olive oil flavors and delicious atop the accompanying soft, warm pita wedges.
The kabobs filled two skewers and included grilled peppers, onions and baby tomatoes. The grilled chicken was juicy and well seasoned, while I appreciated the manageable bite-sized servings of the flavorful veggies. Even the side Greek salad was noteworthy with its abundance of fresh, crisp vegetables and tart feta crumbles.
The Steak Stack could best be described as a French onion soup sandwich, only in the sense that the caramelized onions were a strong but welcome presence. The feta spread, mushrooms and Rosemary oil were all noticeable accents to this creation, almost to the point that the steak slices themselves were lost in the mix. But with a fresh sourdough-bread shell, this sandwich was still a winner.
We could have had house-baked chocolate cake or cookies for dessert, but this meal had us leaving quite full, already thinking Zoës was pretty sweet.
Food: 4 stars (out of five)
Address: 6638 Kingston Pike
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week
Beer and wine service only
Bottom Line: This new Bearden eatery serves up fresh Mediterranean-inspired cuisine that pleases both palates and wallets.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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