WHAT’S FOR LUNCH? SLOW-BRAISED COMFORT

121014 zoe4The tender short rib sandwich comes with a mountain of made in-house potato chips. Below, the delicious crispy chicken sandwich.   (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

121014 zoe2Strip mall restaurants, especially those with a closed facade, can sometimes surprise. Expectations dictate fast food and plastic seating, but at Zoe Bistro in the Markham Street Plaza in Little Silver, our assumptions were incorrect.

The large, modern dining room with its back-wall-spanning banquette, rustic farmhouse-style touches, and easy-on-the-eyes creamy beige color scheme sets an elegant tone.

The lunch menu offers a mix of Mediterranean specialties such as hummus, feta, and grilled octopus, as well as and more filling burgers, sandwiches, and entrees. All come with a gourmet touch.

121014 zoe1Accessorized with a rustic uptown-farmhouse decor, the interior space at Zoe Bistro is softened by a neutral palate and comfortable seating.  (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

It comes as no surprise that the kitchen at Zoe knows how to put together an appealing menu, as the little sister of the wildly popular Bistro and Teak, both in Red Bank and all three owned by the Lyristis brothers – George, Taso and Charlie. Several plates of crackling calamari salad were served to a long table of about 20 people having a lunchtime celebration. A favorite of ours from Bistro, it is nice to see on the menu here as well.

As busy as the restaurant was, the noise level was not ear-splitting. Our waiter, Jason Reiff, handled the larger party table as well as the several smaller tables with great efficiency. A sign of mature professionalism and good training.

The short rib sandwich served on a large brioche bun was sprinkled with crunchy fried onions and touched by a dab of horseradish cream. At $13, it is considerable and filling for a lunch sandwich. The hours-long slow-braised short ribs were slightly tangy and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

After chowing down on half the sandwich, the realization hit us that the perfectly crisp, house-made potato chips would make a lovely scoop for that tender meat, and so the sandwich became disassembled, and every last bite was shoveled in with the chips. If there could be such a thing as a potato-chip-and-beef nacho platter, this would be it. Heaven!

A tender chicken breast, encrusted in a delicate panko coat, was imbued with the added zing of peppery arugula dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Served on a fresh sub-style club roll, it also did not disappoint. The flavors and textures played very nicely together. Another substantial sandwich enjoyed in a relaxing environment at a reasonable $10.

Have you eaten at Zoe? Tell us what you had and what you thought of it. And are there other strip-mall gems on the greater Red Bank Green?