Welcome to another installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explores our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As before, the team consisted of: Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker), and this month’s special guest, Deborah Anderson, founding member of the St. Lorraine Dance Company.
We didn’t intend to return to the North Side this month, but Frenchie couldn’t contain his excitement over a relatively new Greek restaurant in Castle Hills called Zorba’s, located at 2110 N.W. Military Hwy. Much like various Asian cuisines hide under the familiar rubric of “Chinese food” (see: TWF vol. IV), the same seems to be true for Greek restaurants, as Frenchie assured us Zorba’s was actually owned by a Jordanian family. In this case, the labels are academic because Zorba’s just might be the best Greek restaurant (not to mention the best Jordanian joint) in town.
We all began with hot mint tea as we looked over the menu, which contained a great number of options for Deborah, who is a fairly strict vegetarian, as well as Carlos, who prefers meat and pretty much meat only. We ordered dysfunctional-family style with the option for everyone to share.
Deborah ordered the mainly vegetarian Mezza plate, which comes with hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, baba ganouj, dolmas, and kibbeh (a fried ball of bulgur wheat with ground beef and spices stuffed inside). Like a Motown LP, it was a platter containing hit after hit.
The tabbouleh was abundant with parsley, which is a far better way to go than the American style that favors cracked wheat. Deborah found the falafel to be quite fresh — a delicate, crisp outer shell, sticky green on the inside. The dolmas thankfully did not contain any tomato paste and were fairly straightforward, with a slight trace of dill to accompany the rice and vinegar. The dolmas weren’t sensational by themselves, but the acidity worked well in relation to the other items on the plate, especially the hummus and the baba ganouj.
The hummus was smooth and creamy, with the right balance of tahini and lemon. But all these goodies were a mere setup for the baba ganouj, which was unbelievably good. Roasting eggplant and then pureeing it into a dip must be a tricky endeavor, because the flavor seems to vary wildly from restaurant to restaurant, with the eggplant’s bitterness often overwhelming the dish. At Zorba’s, the intense flavor of the eggplant was sublimated in a way that allowed the dish as a whole to captivate us all. If the rest of the meal had been subpar we still would have found Zorba’s to be a success based solely on the outstanding flavor of the baba ganouj.
While Deborah enjoyed the Mezza plate, all of us but Carlos dabbled in the Greek salad. Frenchie enjoyed the crisp greens but thought the dressing could have used a a little less oil. This was only a minor objection, however. For the most part we had to work to find anything that needed improvement. The spanikopita (a savory pastry with spinach and feta) was ordered as an afterthought and it, too, impressed us — the phyllo dough was light and flaky, which allowed this pastry to crumble wonderfully.
At this point, a plate of kafta (a beef shish kebab), chicken, and gyro were delivered to the table. I found the kafta to be the weakest link due to its dryness, but Frenchie thought the kafta was traditional and quite flavorful. The chicken had an interesting spice that was reminiscent of an Indian curry, and revealed a subtle break from standard Greek Mediterranean cuisine. The lamb-and-beef gyro was quite respectable but didn’t inspire me as much as the rest of the meal, although Carlos the carnivore was quite pleased.
It’s difficult to describe the invidual components of our meal in much more detail, because we mixed and matched. With a sliver of pita one can easily add tabbouleh to either hummus or baba ganouj, and then combine that with a bit of the grilled meat and have an excellent meal. All of the flavors orbited around one another in perfect constellation. We can’t wait to return, and with Zorba’s convenient schedule (open seven days a week from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.), we have no excuse not to.•
Frenchie: My wife and I always enjoy our experience at Zorba’s. More people should know about this place.
Deborah: Everything at Zorba’s was very fresh and flavorful. Definitely the best Mediterranean food I have had in San Antonio.
Carlos: The entrees all had interesting spice. For those on a budget, the prices are pretty reasonable.
Mark: The baba ganouj was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted. •