Never one to let trip ups and slip ups get me down, my mom, sister, and I sought out a fun, low-key way to end our last night together before I jetted off back to Baltimore the next morning. We selected Zoe's Kitchen in Midtown, which proved to have something for each of our tastes and was only a few minutes from our hotel.
As I entered, I was happy to see the clearly marked gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options noted on the menu board with color-coded symbols. As I stepped up to order, I informed the cashier that I was gluten-free and dairy-free, who then punched in a code to designate my order as an "allergy" so the kitchen would take extra precaution when handling it. Torn between the chicken kabobs, shrimp kabobs, and protein power plate, I opted for the shrimp since it's a delicacy I cannot eat regularly in college.
To make it gluten and dairy-free, I ordered mine without the pita bread (gluten) and cucumber raita (dairy). When my plate came out, the server immediately stopped and apologized after quickly realizing that feta cheese was on my salad. Without having to instruct that the cheese couldn't just be picked off, the waitress let me know that she would resend the order through the kitchen. In double checking with the chef, she realized the rice pilaf had dairy in it as well, and offered to substitute the braised white beans instead.
Although disappointed by the extended wait for my food, I was impressed by the professional and thorough way the waitress rectified the situation.
When my food finally arrived, I was impressed by the colorful array of super fresh fare. The salad greens and accompanying vegetables were noticeably fresh. The roasted zucchini and shrimp were cooked to perfection, and seasoned liberally with spices, which brought an abundance of flavor, but did not pack a lot of heat. The real showstopper here was the braised white beans however, as their preparation with olive oil and rosemary transformed them into a soothing, simple, delightful dish. I could have had a whole bowl of them alone and been totally satisfied. For those who are wondering, they are vegan as well.
Overall, I really liked Zoe's Kitchen, and will be adding them to my register of safe restaurants to rely on wherever my travels take me. They are located throughout the South and are expanding steadily, so I hope to see them come to Baltimore or Orlando sometime soon! While I was disconcerted by the mix-up, they redeemed themselves nicely and won my seal of approval.
Update 2/20/16: Recently, Zoe's Kitchen opened up a location closer to me in Towson, MD. I stopped by for lunch and decided on the chicken kabobs. These are gluten-free (sans pita bread), and come with a side Greek salad and rice pilaf. The only accommodation necessary to render it dairy-free is removing feta from the salad.
I loved the tenderness and seasoning of the chicken. The accompanying green pepper, roasted tomatoes, and red onion had a nice flavor and were roasted to perfect consistency. The side salad, noticeably fresh was a nice dose of vegetables, especially with the simple but delicious dressing. Surprising me with how much I liked it was the rice pilaf. Rice so often is dry and tasteless at restaurants but here it was moist and had a nice nutty flavor. Overall, I loved my follow up meal and definitely like how Zoes has amended their menu to be even more gluten-free friendly.
While visiting, I also was able to confirm that the dressing is gluten and dairy-free (see ingredients at the bottom of the label). Because the dressing is made on-site, you can bet it's fresh and flavorful!
Cuisine: Mediterranean food (see GF options here)
Ideal For: Lunch, Dinner
Price: All menu items less than $12
Accessibility: The restaurant is fully wheelchair accessible
Special Features: Zoe's offers catering (more info here)