Dining at Zorba’s in Baton Rouge is a special treat for those who enjoy the delightful taste of Greek cuisine. The intimate bistro also re-creates the friendly atmosphere and blue/white décor of many cafés in Greece and its islands.
Zorba’s is truly authentic. The Cypriot-Greek Economedes family, which operated a restaurant during the 1980s and ’90s on Highland Road, recently opened the bistro on Essen Lane. It’s a true family enterprise with owners meeting customers and working in the kitchen. Sons, daughters and cousins help out as members of the wait staff.
Expertly planned, the restaurant’s menu features dishes popular in Mediterranean bistros throughout Greece and the Mediterranean islands. The cuisine is some of the healthiest and most flavorful in the world. Fresh vegetables, including eggplants and tomatoes, along with familiar seafood and meats are perfectly suited to Louisiana tastes.
A wonderful beginning for dinner, the Piperies dip ($7) blends slightly smoky roasted red sweet peppers with roasted walnuts, garlic and olive oil. Spread the smooth dip on soft, warm toasted pita triangles for a quick bite. The fried calamari appetizer ($12) can easily satisfy four. Tender pieces of squid are fried in an extra crunchy batter with a hint of cayenne pepper. The calamari comes with a creamy tzatziki sauce, made with Greek yogurt, and lightly seasoned with dill.
The mousaka ($14), baked in an individual casserole, features layers of lean ground beef, eggplant and potatoes topped with a buttery bechamel sauce. We especially liked the subtle blending of flavors in this not too peppery dish. The fresh fish of the day ($19) was a grilled speckled trout. It’s topped with a pungent mustard sauce blended with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Although sharp tasting, the sauce balances out the flavor of the fish, especially when eaten with the mild orzo pasta and green beans side dishes.
Zorba’s lunch menu contains many of the same dishes offered for dinner. The flavorful lamb and halloumi sandwich ($11) consists of rosemary-flavored ciabatta bread filled with layers of thinly sliced grilled leg of lamb; the traditional Cypriot, firm-textured, salty and mild-tasting halloumi cheese; and a lovely kalamata olive mix. It is served with Zorba’s salad and large French fries that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The tenderloin beef souvlaki ($12) plate contains a generous helping of extremely tender and delicious marinated grilled beef bites. We especially liked the chicken shawerma plate ($11) cooked with a generous amount of tender chicken. It came with a side of freshly made, lemony flavored hummus. All our lunch plates came with Zorba’s salad, a pleasant blend of fresh, baby mixed greens, red onion, cherry tomatoes and fresh, moist feta cheese topped with an excellent house vinaigrette with plenty of lemon and olive oil.
Zorba’s serves a variety of Greek desserts made by family members. We passed on baklava, which many love for its layers of filo dough, cinnamon and walnuts and citrus-honey syrup. Instead, we opted for Kataifi ($4.50), a Mediterranean pastry crafted with shredded filo dough and topped with a light delicate custard and crushed pistachio nuts. It was a perfect end to a summer meal.
Since the bistro is somewhat small, it can be crowded during peak hours. Try going at off times, and consider making a meal of just appetizers and a salad. The bar is small but well stocked with excellent choices of wine, beers and liquors. The wait staff is exceptionally friendly and helpful. When we found our ice tea too weak, it was quickly replaced with fresh, darker tea.