What works: The food is back to pre-move quality.
What needs work: Fitting me and three friends in a booth. I’m fat. Deal with it.
Tips: Paella is only available on the weekends. But gyros, like diamonds, are forever.
It’s time to forgive and forget, Oklahoma City.
We were all angry with Zorba’s when they moved from that ramshackle dive to their tony, new digs. Maybe we all just missed that order-at-the-counter greasy-spoon feel, but it seemed like the quality of the food declined, too. That’s the sort of thing that makes me stop frequenting a restaurant.
So when my editor suggested a return visit, I was nonplussed. But she’s very strict and she rapped my knuckles until I agreed. And, I’m glad she did. Because new Zorba’s is tasting a lot more like old Zorba’s.
The gyro dinner ($9.50), for instance, has shaped up nicely. Thin and crisp, but still pliable, strips of meat are piled high with plenty of Zorba’s freshly toasted pita bread. It’s a nice change from the classic gyro sandwich in that it really lets the meat speak for itself.
The falafel sandwich ($4) features crunchy discs of fried, moist chickpeas. Careful to keep a tight grip on the sandwich, though. It’s like everything in there is trying to get out, because it knows the end is near.
One of the dishes that drove me away from Zorba’s the first time was the chicken shish kebab dinner ($10.95). Formerly tough and dry, these kebabs were miles better than I remembered. Now they’re tender with a little spice for flavor, but not so much as to cover up the inherent chicken-y chicken-ness of chicken that I love.
Also, rice. Wow. Lots of rice. And as a guy who likes rice, that’s a good thing.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the many friends who suggested I get some soup. Particularly the tomato-artichoke, which is just delightful. Get a cup in place of a salad. (Blasphemy, I know, but it’s really good.) I also tried the lentil beef and was eager for more. Seriously. I very nearly went to the kitchen, Oliver Twist-style, begging for more.
If you’re in for dinner, I recommend the chicken bandarri ($10) and the pomegranate salmon ($13.95). The bandarri has chicken thighs, stewed in a tomato and garlic sauce, served over rice. Careful with your fork: One touch will make that tender chicken fall apart. The salmon surprised me. I thought it would be overly sweet, but it had just a hint of the fruit accenting the fish’s natural flavor.
On the weekends, you can get paella ($12.95). Have you had paella? Do you like saying “paella”? Paella. It’s not for everybody, but only if everybody includes people that don’t like fish. It’s a baked rice dish, with a lot of the fat coming from chorizo, but most of the meat is chicken, fish, shrimp and — beautifully displayed up top — mussels.
My wife doesn’t like most of those things. I like all of them. So. Paella. It’s just fun to say.
And Zorba’s is a fun place to eat. They have belly dancers and live music. They have TVs showing sports, if you, like me, are uncomfortable watching people dance right in front of you. They have food that tastes a lot like the food I remember loving when I used to say to my friends, “Oh, man, I’m so hungry for Zorba’s.”
So, I’ll forgive you for moving, Zorba’s, if you’ll forgive me for staying away too long. I promise it won’t happen again.
Photos by Shannon Cornman