REVIEW: Zest Cafe & Home Art – Raleigh
I went out to Zest Cafe & Home Art on Six Forks Road in Raleigh the other day for a quick bite to eat with my mom who was passing through Raleigh. She said she was feeling a sandwich or a salad and I had heard a lot about Zest’s lunch menu and decided to head over with her to check it out.
I had been hearing good things from a variety of people about the food at Zest Cafe ranged from catered hor d’oeuvres (which I had tried at a party before) to the brunch menu and the sandwich menu. The sandwiches played their part in getting me there and Urbanspoon was the other force in getting me there with its very mom-friendly reviews for Zest. Additionally, there was a bit of a guilty force working on me because one of my good buddies from college manages the restaurant and I have been living in Raleigh for about 9 months and still hadn’t been out there yet! Don’t worry. It didn’t alter my review of the place at all.
The restaurant was packed with a 15 minute wait for a 2-top on the outside patio but we were able to snag a table inside right when we got there. Some of the Urbanspoon and Yelp reviewers are right in the sense that the restaurant is a little tight especially during the lunch or dinner rush. A packed environment is something that doesn’t really bother me unless it is bar or Wal-Mart. The crowd was a mixture of business lunches, families and housewives. Everyone was talking but we had no trouble talking or hearing each other over them.
I ordered the hoisin braised short rib panini which is topped with caramelized onions, provolone cheese and tomato cruda on the house flatbread with a ramekin of Zest’s sweet & spicy steak sauce. I am always a little hesitant to order a panini at restaurants because I feel like many places tend to short you on the filling. This was not the case at Zest. My panini was loaded with short rib meat and smothered in provolone cheese and tomato cruda. The first bite put a smile on my face and it stayed there throughout the meal and afterwards until I had to go back to work. The short rib was thinly sliced and had dynamite flavor of hoisin. The sandwich was delicious by itself but once I dipped it in the steak sauce, I didn’t try another bite without it.
The side of pasta salad was a welcome change from the world of steak sandwiches served with fries plus a side of ranch which is the dish of choice if you are living the current American dream.
My mom ordered the “Select” salad which is a blend of mixed greens with Black Mission figs, fresh pears, crumbled blue cheese, toasted walnuts and a raspberry balsamic vinaigrette. She added a grilled chicken breast for $3 to make it a little more filling. I didn’t get to try it but she told me that really enjoyed it.
NOTE: The Splenda was for the tea and not the salad. One thing that you should know before going into Zest is that they do not offer sweet tea which one Urbanspoon user decried as “blasphemous”. However, they do have a raspberry tea which a different user says makes up for it.
Zest has a boutique that you can shop around in before, during or after lunch with a variety of things ranging from kitchenware to artwork to a puppet show. The items they sell in the boutique aren’t particularly my cup of tea. Think chic with lots of polka dots and floral designs. That said, I did end up buying a belt for my sister-in-law’s birthday thanks to the help from Amanda which received the compliment (I think…) from my sister-in-law of “Who knew you had such good taste in ladies clothing?!” Thanks AK…
The menu had a lot of other items that I wanted to try the quesadilla with poblano peppers & sweet potatoes or the tortilla crusted catfish sandwich. The Asian spring rolls and sesame chicken with lo mein also peaked my interest. However, I will probably be ordering the short rib panini again because it was so damn good. The brunch menu also has a lot of interesting items like the Quadrant (2 any style eggs, 2 griddlecakes of the day with warm syrup, zest mix roasted chipotle-herb potatoes and a ramekin of southern style cheese grits) or the brunch fritatta (grilled mahi and manchego cheese topped with fresh avocado and cilantro pesto served with mixed green salad and fresh fruit).
Zest is located near I-540 not far off from the Six Forks Road exit so it could be a good lunch stop if you are headed to the coast and not trying to eat at chains which you probably are if you are reading this blog. Stop by and check it out and tell Ben & Amanda that I sent you!