This Sunday started with a plan, but, like the Iraq War, we had no exit strategy. We have an upcoming event and I noted a rather gaping hole in my wardrobe. Apart from a rather funereal suit, nothing dressy. My remaining sports coat would require much weight loss and, to be honest, was bought in the late 80’s. Time to retire. So off to Nordstrom for some live piano and the waste-land known as Short Pump.
In a feat of sprint shopping I selected the needed sports coat, two nice pair of cotton pants (as opposed to the overpriced wool and silk pants the salesman tried to steer me towards), and two brightly coloured shirts. An Elmo, Oscar, and Paul Frank shirts for Finn and we were off and straight into our dilemma. We were hungry but it was nearly 2, the closing point for many eateries, we were in Short Pump (chain purgatory), and we had no idea what we were in the mood for.
So, ignoring the current price of oil, we went on a petrol burning tour of Short Pump driving slowly (can you even drive fast in the gridlock that is Short Pump?) from strip mall to strip mall. I could feel my individuality draining away as I surveyed chains well known and obscure. The few independents, and a number of the chains, had either closed or ‘For Sale’ signs in the windows, victims of a poor economy, over-building, and stratospheric rents. The food choices were many but none were appealing. The only thing that caught our eye was Umi, a Japanese place, but as we already had plans for sushi on Wednesday we ruled that out. We continued our search down Broad.
Frankly, at that point it got ugly. Finn saw a Starbucks and started crying to go to the coffeeshop (he loves their chocolate milk) a little too shrilly. M, who had woken up with a bad headache, wasn’t too happy either. Both of us threw out suggestions only to have the other shoot them down. Finally, I just got in a turn lane. M, looking around the strip mall, asked – ‘Have you ever been to Zorba’s?’. ‘Yep, and that’s where we’re going’ – I replied.
Once seated, I noted the surroundings. A little sad, actually, probably very fancy when built, it now looked tired and the Christmas lights around the bar were either tacky or a testament to laziness. Perhaps I have become too used the decor being a statement about the food or the philosophy. Some great looking places have served crap food. Unless unclean, the decor has nothing to do with the quality of the food served to you. Let’s move on.
Bread and drinks came. My gin and tonic was rather small. I had forgotten, in this day of super-sized drinks, that cocktails used to be so small. It was good, though, and I was thirsty. The bread was average. Most likely par-cooked frozen from a supplier and then baked off in house. This reinforces the theme of a restaurant stuck in a time warp. In the 70’s and 80’s everyone served bread like this.
The salads really made me question my choice of restaurant. M had the greek salad and it looked fine and she liked it. Not too fancy but generous with feta. I had the house. I seriously doubt the dressing was made in-house and my second bite found the lettuce fully cooked from the piping hot plate fresh from the dishwasher.
I think a fellow foodie put an idea in both mine and RVAFoodies head (he satisfied his craving at Bacchus last night) as I had a hankering for calamari. The appetizer plate arrived with a generous portion of fried squid. I really couldn’t tell if they were fresh or frozen. They weren’t rubbery but the parts with tentacle were a little squishy. No lemon was on the plate but they must have had some squeezed on them in the kitchen because you could taste and smell it. My first bites were without sauce and my verdict was… not too bad. Served with the fried squid parts was a large dollop of tzatziki sauce. If this tzatziki was store bought I want to know where so I can get it. Creamy with a hint of yogurt tang it was a perfect partner with the calamari. Things were looking up.
For an entree M had the moussaka. This layered dish, a large portion in a large bowl, with tomato sauce, ground meat, firm eggplant and creamy bechemel was excellent, especially on a gray, damp Sunday. M left very little. This would be the kind of moussaka your grandmother (if she were Greek) would make. Today’s foodies probably would like a little more spices. For Greek home comfort food, which this is, it was satisfying.
I had the gyro platter. Triangles of pita, grilled pressed chopped meat, spiced chopped tomato and onion (fresh!), and their wonderful tzatziki. OK, anyone can slice pita bread so we’ll skip that. Let’s take a close look a the gyro meat. Firm, flavourful, no gristle or strangely chewy spots, no strange aftertaste that sometimes occurs. In a word, good. Gyro meat is done poorly by so many cheap places you can forget how good it can be when done right.
Zorba’s is a place is desperate need of a makeover, both in decor and in bringing the menu into this century. Should they do it? Probably not. To use a phrase I hate – ‘it is what it is’. If they updated the place they would probably lose their core customer base, a steady flow of which came through their doors while we were there. Would I drive out of my way there? Probably not. If I were in the area and hungry, though, I would stop in, especially since they do continuous service and it is very hard to find a decent, non-chain place in the middle of the day.