112 West Washington Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
QISA (4433), $10-15, Vegetarian-Friendly
It should come as no surprise that I love small, liberal college towns. I spent one quarter of my life as a student in Bloomington, Indiana, and Boulder, Colorado, and I now like to visit college towns as an adult to explore the culinary counter culture. I travel to Ann Arbor periodically for my work, and I suspect that the town will give me ample opportunity to patronize the vegan and vegetarian cuisine, alternating smoothies with microbrews, pasta dishes with quinoa salads, spicy bean burgers with barbecued seitan, French fries with…well, more French fries.
However, despite the many, many restaurants to explore, I suspect that I will be coming back to Café Zola very soon.
Café Zola, named after the French writer Emile Zola, focuses on French cuisine, with a smattering of Italian, Mediterranean, and Turkish thrown in for good measure. This independently owned and operated restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees including salads, crepês, omelettes, Belgian waffles, and sandwiches. Even if one excludes all the meat dishes, one can put together an impressive menu of choices.
On a recommendation from my dining partner, I ordered the Salad Zola, which comprised fresh goat cheese, lightly breaded and baked until soft and creamy, served on a bed of greens with a Turkish vinaigrette that tasted like a combination of sesame oil and balsamic vinegar. One could order the salad with chicken; I obviously opted for the vegetarian version. And when I say goat cheese, I am talking about a 2-3 inch flat circle of soft, warm, breaded goat cheese. If you do not like goat cheese, this will not impress you. If you do…oh, my.
The meal comes with Zingerman’s Bakehouse bread and herb butter. For those of you who have not experienced Zingerman’s bread of the month club (yes, I am serious), we are talking top shelf carbs here. It took me every ounce of will power not to steal my companion’s bread after finishing my own. Since my dining companion was also my boss, I suppose this was prudent.
I completed my meal with a glass of ice tea, the flavor of which changes daily. The tea of the day was lemon basil, which was wonderfully light and refreshing.
The modern art paintings on the walls give the place a sophisticated flair, but the rustic wooden tables keep the place grounded. The service was competently unremarkable, which was not a bad thing in itself. I was there for the food, not a show.
As I said, I plan to come back. The salad was nice, but there is so much more to try. I might go mushroom crazy with the Crepe Champignon (stuffed with sautéed mushrooms, onions, porcini mushroom sauce, and crème fraiche), or the Portabella Panino (whole portabella cap grilled with roasted garlic and oven-melted Havarti cheese). Or perhaps I’ll satisfy my sweet tooth with the Crepe Normandie (sautéed apples, walnuts, and cranberries with honey and crème), the Crepe Nutella Banana, or the Black Forest Belgian Waffle (with imported brandied cherries, Ghiradelli chocolate sauce, powered sugar, and crème Chantilly).
Hell, I can have a bean burger any old day.