I used to rant about the near addiction so many people have to chain restaurants. But the perception seems to be changing; perhaps the Food Channel is showing Americans that the way to experience good food and have interesting new dining experiences is to break free of the Olive Garden and try something they haven’t seen advertised on TV.
For anyone tempted to try something different but not willing to sacrifice the easy parking and acceptable level of housekeeping that are central to the franchise allure, consider Zorba’s Taverna. This was the first time I’d dined there and after being seated I looked around and noted how open and spacious their dining room is. And it’s also immaculately clean.
A sweeping arch separates the front end of the dining room from the kitchen; in design it echoes an architectural form one encounters throughout Greece, and that’s no accident, since Zorba’s founding family is Greek and this imprint can be found throughout the menu.
After making these observations, I turned my attention to the menu. My first impression: it’s huge, and initially that might have made me suspicious of overreach. But quick to assist us in making selections was Savannah, our waitress, who was thoroughly familiar with the menu. Isn’t the dining experience enhanced when one’s server is proud of what’s coming out of the kitchen?
Zorba’s appetizer list is weighted with Greek selections, most of which appealed to us. So we did the obvious and ordered the Horiatiki Pikilia, a variety containing grilled pita bread for dipping into bowls of hummus or tzatziki. Or you could wrap it around a dolmadakia (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs) or chunks of tasty feta cheese. Greek olives, peppers, tomatoes, and red onion provided a mix of color, textures and flavors.
After a first-pass sampling of it contents, we concurred that the star of the platter was the tzatziki. Cool and refreshing, this is a Greek favorite made with yogurt, sour cream, olive oil and cucumbers blended into a creamy mixture with a hint of garlic. It’s got the pedigree of peasant cuisine, but don’t so many of our favorites?
For hardcore Greek entrees, consider the menu’s Yiayia’s Fourno (Grandma’s oven). This section offers Stuffed Peppers, Moussaka, Pastichio and Lamb Shank. But my friend kept things more New-England-Traditional with Zorba’s Stuffed Shrimp. Four colossal shrimp were laden with seafood stuffing, broiled and topped with a lobster sauce. They were served with rice pilaf and spears of tender asparagus, both green and white ~ a luxurious surprise.
Anyone can call their shrimp “colossal,” but Zorba’s were, indeed, very large and surprisingly moist and juicy. This led my guest to suggest that the portion could be reduced from four shrimp to three. Given his hearty appetite, this came as no small shock!
Recent articles about Americans losing their fondness for lamb reminded me how much I enjoy it, so I ordered Zorba’s Slow Roasted Lamb. According to the menu, they stud it with garlic and herbs before roasting; this resulted in rich flavor that was even more pronounced a few days later when I sliced my leftovers to make the tastiest sandwiches in town.
The lamb was superior, but the “Greek-Style” green beans it was served with needed more time over the fire. Zorba’s may be bowing to the pressure to serve “healthy;” their beans were still a bit crunchy and the tomatoes… well, let’s just say the pot should have remained on the stove for another hour or so.
By the end of a large meal, dessert can be an easy pass. But not when it’s Greek, homemade, and called Galaktoboureko. Don’t try to pronounce it ~ just go ahead and order it. Rich, flaky leaves of phyllo pastry in the form of a muffin were baked golden brown and drenched in lightly flavored citrus syrup. Inside was creamy custard, fragile and fresh. So ethereal it was sad to finish… I found myself plotting a return trip for more…which neatly summarizes the Zorba’s experience: with such a wide-ranging menu, there are plenty of reasons to return again. And again….
Zorba’s Taverna Restaurant & Bar
97 Stafford Street, Worcester
508-796-5828 | zorbastaverna.com