August is here and pre-season football starts this weekend. If I’m going to get into swimsuit shape by summer of 2014 I guess I should start dieting now. Lord knows I missed it this year. The trouble with weight loss and healthy living is that it is usually (1) not delicious and (2) relatively expensive.

You can’t just stir a little milled flax seed into your chocolate malt and call it a day. There are reasons why a salad costs more than a hamburger. It wasn’t always this way. Nowadays if you want to eat healthier and live longer you have to pay a little extra, and a little more than extra if you don’t want to sacrifice flavor. So it was with great delight that in my quest for a less generous silhouette my beautiful wife suggested we go to Zoes Kitchen.

We’ve all heard about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, and Zoes does not disappoint in this category. Yes, it is a chain. No, it is not a gyro shop. Let’s just say they are in the ballpark of a Mediterranean style café, ingredient wise. Lots of feta, orzo, tabouli, and hummus can be found on the menu along with sandwiches, wraps, salads and kabobs.

It is totally casual, order at the counter and they bring it out to you. It almost has a fast food feel until you taste the freshness. Hummus and pita ($4.79) came to the table immediately. They make it on premises and it shows. Our plate donned a couple of olives and a sprinkling of what might have been paprika.

Veggie pita pizza ($8.29) was the order of my bride. Loaded with spinach, this flatbread pie was not only tasty but filling. It came with a rather large Greek side salad that came home for tomorrow’s lunch along with half of the pizza.

I couldn’t stay away from the shrimp kabobs ($9.99). On a bed of rice pilaf next to another Greek side salad, these charbroiled sticks alternated between shrimp and zucchini. Served with a side of cucumber raita, I couldn’t decide whether to put the sauce on the kabob or the salad. The raita was much like tzatziki sauce without the dill. The version at my table was a little chunkier and went well with all of it, but I didn’t want to overshadow the flavor of the shrimp. The zucchini were masterfully cut to the proper size so that they were cooked perfectly and evenly with the shrimp. Good job.

Everything was so good that we came back the next night just to make sure these guys really had kung-fu. The evening began with tomato bisque ($3.99/bowl). Little pockets of feta appeared about every third spoonful. This was a real solid soup.

Missy wanted another pizza, but I convinced her no one wanted to read about the same thing twice. She bought it and ordered the spinach rollups ($7.49). These could best be described as Greek burritos. Tortillas are stuffed with mozzarella, feta, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. A side of smooth salsa comes with the dish as well as a side of mayo-free slaw that was excellent.

I broke through the vegetarian motif with a Grueben ($8.99). You might call it a Turkey Reuben. The bird replaces the corned beef, the slaw I just mentioned replaces the sauerkraut, but the Swiss cheese and rye bread remain the same. The turkey was thinly sliced, but plentiful. It was a very good sandwich, but I admit I missed the shrimp kabobs. Tonight’s meal came with a side of potato salad, mayo-free, that I have no idea how they did it. It wasn’t dry, it wasn’t weird. But it was good.

It sounds as if I spent a couple of evenings being a good boy, now doesn’t it? Not so fast. Zoes certainly allows a little bit of sinning in those walls. Let’s start with what they call Yaya’s handmade chocolate cake ($2.19). It’s chocolate on chocolate, and it is delicious. Do not miss this one. Next we had to try a giant house baked cookie ($1.99). We chose the chocolate chip over the oatmeal, and the size of the chips mirrored the size of the cookie. It compared to a slice of pizza, maybe larger. The cookie was soft and chewy with just the right amount of crumbs. Though these two desserts were split between me and Missy and Graham, we all had to loosen our belts a notch.

The real sin for me was the pint of made-from-scratch pimiento cheese ($8.99). Zoes has no preservatives, just simple ingredients that include a dash or two of Tabasco. The heat is certainly an afterthought, but it’s nice to have it. This tub won’t last long in my fridge.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with this find. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a vegetarian restaurant, but the menu is nicely laid out with markings for vegan and vegetarian making it simpler if that’s what you are looking for. The main ingredient is freshness. That could easily be their catchphrase. Corny as it may sound, that is what separates them from the herd. It’s healthy, it’s delicious, and it’s relatively cheap. A few nights like this each week and maybe I’ll be ready for that bikini by spring break.

Zoes Kitchen
Legacy Village
9 Du Rhu Dr.
Mobile, AL