The name Rigsby commands the utmost respect in Columbus restaurant circles. Kent and Tasi Rigsby's sophisticated businesses - Rigsby's Kitchen, Tasi Cafe and Eleni-Christina Bakery - helped elevate our city's food scene significantly. So when I heard the Rigsby family's long-delayed newest eatery, Zoe Cafe, opened in Bexley the week before Christmas, my expectations ran high.
The name Rigsby commands the utmost respect in Columbus restaurant circles. Kent and Tasi Rigsby’s sophisticated businesses — Rigsby’s Kitchen, Tasi Cafe and Eleni-Christina Bakery — helped elevate our city’s food scene significantly. So when I heard the Rigsby family’s long-delayed newest eatery, Zoe Cafe, opened in Bexley the week before Christmas, my expectations ran high.
Endowed with lots of glass and wood, unstuffy Zoe certainly looks terrific. It’s a large and sleek space with a long bar and a tastefully spare, rustically chic and artsy atmosphere.
The menu hits mellifluous notes too. Offering breakfast all day, plus lunch (after 11 a.m.) and dinner (after 4 p.m.), Zoe’s jazzed-up diner fare is distinguished by excellent ingredients and plenty of zesty Greek and Latin American accents. Most items are under $10, and no supper costs more than $17. So far, so smooth.
Wrinkles arise when ordering at Zoe’s counter. The expansive main menu alone is a lot to digest while standing in a queue, but there are daily specials and menus for happy hour snacks and beverages to figure out too. And requesting drinks is downright confusing.
Water is DIY, but if you desire a second glass of wine from Zoe’s nice little list while dining — or decide you’d like a cocktail or beer then — you’ll have to get back in line. Or you can go to the bar, but no one bothers to explain this.
The mostly good food exhibited glitches too. Named after its eponymous serving vessel, Zoe’s Skillet ($10) laid a fried egg atop decent (if dryish) roast beef and greasy, half-cooked potato cubes. Its best feature was the flavor provided by jalapeno and tomato.
I enjoyed the dense and spicy strands of Zoe’s barbecue-style Pulled Pork ($8), but my sandwich was so oily that grease rapidly soaked through an otherwise wonderful bun, and spilled into a voluminous orange pool on my plate. On the side was a bold and colorful slaw overburdened by a sweet, mayo-based dressing.
Showing up for the phenomenal wine deals and (Rigsby’s bar-style) small plates available during Zoe’s happy hour (3:30-6:30) should be a fun way to dine. But Zoe’s order-and-deliver-everything-together logistics make that difficult.
From the abbreviated happy hour menu, the Bolivian Jalapeno Poppers ($5) filled with melted mozzarella tasted great, but their brittle shells had shattered off so much, they were barely there. Lemony Keftedes ($5) — tiny grass-fed beef meatballs in racy tomato sauce — were pleasant, but missing their menu-promised tzatziki. If you love garlic — I do — target Zoe’s dense and winning Skorthalia ($5), a classic Greek potato dip. The menu reports it comes with French bread; I got grilled pita.
Though its white meat was marginally dry, when I received my herby, lemony and crackly skinned Roasted Greek Chicken ($15), I thought, “Now that’s more like it.” The flavorful half-bird was crowned with onion loops and served with soulful pan juice plus potato cubes — this time browned and appealing. Sealing the good deal, it came with a nifty little salad and a creamy, thick and addictive rice pudding.
That same dessert and salad (or an alluringly concentrated tomato bisque) came with the Braised Salmon ($17). This lovely dish — equally rustic and refined — presented expertly seared and perfectly seasoned fish atop a piquant jalapeno broth. Contributing body and nuance were hacked carrots, celery, greens and potatoes plus accents of lime and fennel.
The salmon entree was so flawless and delicious, it stood out like a home run among a bunch of singles. I’m not saying the other stuff I tried at Zoe’s wasn’t perfectly fine — it was. But is “perfectly fine” really good enough for the Rigsbys?