Wednesday, October 17, 2012 / 12:30 PM
There must be a proper Latin name for soup fanatics, something beyond soupophiles. Whatever they're called, they should be in heaven at Zoya's Cafe & Catering. Of course, there are other choices, but it's the serious soups that lead the way. Both cold and hot soups, by the way; on our visit, both gazpacho and a cold borscht were on the list along with the hot choices. (No need to ask; yes, they were steaming hot, always another plus.)
Like many small strip-mall food operations, Zoya's is primarily a lunch operation, closing relatively early on weeknights and at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Still, we're thinking that there are folks who stop by on their way home for carryout to supplement - or create - dinner. It's a simple little spot, a counter for ordering, a couple of refrigerated cases, easy viewing of the prep area and a do-it-yourself beverage dispensing area. No frills beyond photos on the wall; it's all about the food and Zoya herself (left) zipping around to check on how folks liked the food and schmoozing with regular customers.
The borscht (below left) isn't the thick magenta-colored puree still found in restaurants on New York's East village. It's cool, chunky, crunchy with cucumber as well as the beets, a dollop of sour cream balancing a little tartness and the clear notes and occasional frond of fresh dill. Lentil-split pea soup (below right), definitely not the sludgy mass sometimes found, was full-flavored and at the right spot between watery and the aforementioned sludge. There also seemed to be some Israeli couscous here and there as well to vary the texture. While we found no meat pieces, it's based on a chicken stock, according to Zoya.
And then there was the matzo ball soup (below left). Its chicken broth was notably rich, full of fowlish flavor with good notes of parsley and celery, a fine gold color. The matzo balls, each about the size of a ping pong ball, were firm but more tender than the firmness might hint. Floater or sinker? The height of the bowl plus the diameter of the matzo balls didn't give enough room to give an accurate answer to that always-burning question. Aficionados won't miss the chance to decide for themselves.
Much of the posted menu leans toward the Greek, and a fish gyro (above right) sounded interesting. Thin fillets of grouper had been lightly seasoned with what registered as a mix of Creole seasoning and curry powder, sprinkled with a few breadcrumbs and baked, then wrapped in warm, fresh pita with lettuce, cherry tomatoes and a thick tzatziki sauce, very creamy and with generous amounts of parsley. Distinctly non-Greek is a balsamic turkey sandwich, which anoints the turkey with a balsamic vinaigrette. Besides the basic lettuce-tomato-onion route, Zoya's also includes sweet yellow peppers, a nice touch. The bread, a chunk of which is also served with the soup, is a french bread in the New Orleans style, a very crisp crust and soft interior, a style found in authentic poor boy sandwiches. It's a generously piled 'wich and the balsamic vinegar adds a nice touch without making it more than faintly sweet.
And then there was the stuffed cabbage. Except for those of us who didn't grow up in the stuffed cabbage tradition, everyone's grandmother made it differently. Thus everyone's an expert. This particular version is only somewhat smaller than a quarterback's fist, and sauced in a thick and slightly chunky deep red tomato sauce, tilting more toward the sweet than the sweet-sour. The generous filling was dense, with not much filler in it, a very basic flavoring, salt, pepper, perhaps a little onion garlic, with the cabbage and tomato doing most of the tastebud two-step.
Fat cookies sit by the cash register, but more intriguing are the small Greek pastries. Kataifi, the shredded dough, is wrapped into a finger-sized cylinder, and the baklava triangles are small, each just enough for two bites. The baklava is fresh, nutty and not oozing with syrup, thus not very sweet and easy enough to eat by hand using the paper frill in which it resides as a holder. The kataifi finger probably has a few finely minced nuts in the middle, but it's mostly about the crunch and the even fainter sweetness than its cousin the baklava. Both are worthwhile, though, especially at $1 each.
Zoya's deserves a spot on the lunch rotation list, especially if the day calls for soup. Grab your sweater, those days have arrived.
Zoya's Cafe & Catering
725 N. New Ballas
Mon-Fri 9 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Sat 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
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