Zorba’s Mediterranean Cuisine: Restaurant Schizophrenia
Zorba’s has recently made a big splash on the Northwest side of town by opening a new, very large location on North May. I tried out this new location and discovered that their recent move has resulted in a severe case of schizophrenia. Zorba’s can’t decide if it wants to retain the small, fast food, rough-around-the-edges feel of its roots, or morph into a modern, full service restaurant. The problem is that this indecision results in a sub-par experience all around.
Let’s start our diagnosis with their new building. The exterior is much like a square, but with a few Greek adornments. It’s almost interesting, but when you take a closer look, it’s really just a big box. I don’t get it. It lacks commitment and direction. It can’t decide what it wants to be.
Then, there’s the interior. It’s sort of modern, with relaxed neutrals, polished floors, and recessed lighting. But then there are these old-looking murals on the walls, like what you would have seen at the old location. And it’s sort of half-finished. One side of the room is quite interesting with angles in the walls and fixtures to really break things up. Then you travel to the other end of the room where it’s just a box with chairs and tables.
I went at lunch, where Zorba’s still does limited service, taking your order at the counter and bringing the food to your table after you serve your own drinks. But there’s a host stand at the front and a large waiting area, so I asked them about it and they said at night they do full service. So, at lunch, you walk past the empty waiting room, the empty host stand and the empty bar and stand in line for the counters. I can imagine that it’s equally as awkward at night as the full-service elements are in use but there are a bunch of walk-up counters that are empty. This may not seem like a big deal, but I think it does make a difference to the experience. Is it fast food, or is it a sit-down dinner? It’s really tough to be both, and this schizophrenic struggle comes through in the facility, just as it shows up in the average quality of the food.
The food is just that — average. I really don’t understand what is special about it. The gyro meat was dry. The Greek salad was little more than some iceberg lettuce with some cheese and olives on top and in an italian-type dressing (why italian?). They have all the standard Mediterranean fare, but it all just seems to be “ok,” not great. I was dining with a group of friends who all had the same impression. It’s not that it’s bad. In fact, we all really wanted it to be better than it was, but when you get honest about it, there’s nothing that really grabs you.
On balance, I will say that we tried a hummus dip that was pretty good. It was probably the most intriguing item I experienced with a smooth, creamy texture and a nice, earthy flavor. Also, if you are looking for a salad, the Persian salad outperforms the Greek. It’s a non-lettuce salad with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and some other veggies — fresh and zippy and unique enough to hold my attention. Those were the bright spots of the food for me.
Couple the average food with the awkward atmosphere and you get this experience that really just leaves you confused. Especially confused because the place is so crowded at lunch. They obviously have a lot of fans, so hey, I can’t knock them for that. To each their own, but Zorba’s to me is just not worth the trip. There are several other Mediterranean places that offer a better experience and better food (see our recent review on Athens for one example).
Honestly, I really wish I had better things to say about Zorba’s, but I just don’t. Restaurant schizophrenia is a sad and devastating disease that leaves me a bit confused and wishing for a better experience.
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