Saturday, November 10, 2007

Get Your Just Desserts At Zakes Cakes and Café...And A Lot More Too

Maybe my glass at Zakes Café wasn't rose-colored, but the warm atmosphere and gracious service certainly made me feel as if it could have been.

Sometimes you just want to go to dinner at a little local place and eat what you want and drink what you want (it's BYOB) and be treated well by the staff. This is just such a place.

H(usband) and I had the good fortune to go to Zakes with some folks who knew the chef. That's always fun. I love talking to knife-wielding crazy people and I do believe that many chefs are partly (sometimes mostly) crazy.

Chef Marlene Zakes is a non-stop bundle of energy. She turned out more dishes that night than I would have thought possible from the small kitchen that I spied from the outside. She wasn't, however, wielding any knives (in the dining room, at least), which was probably a good thing and she didn't appear to be crazy.

Marlene owns and runs the place with her brother. I liked that occasionally it was the chef, herself, who served and even took orders. She has a great staff. We were lucky to be served by Tien, who amiably attends to the service on Saturday nights.

Zakes is off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Ft. Washington, PA, not that far from Phillie. It's in an old charming house with the original HICKORY DICKORY DOCK clock. I'd like to go back in the daylight to properly appreciate it. Marlene started baking (with no training) and got so good that she opened a bakery first, over 20 years ago, and then the café. They still have a big wedding cake business.

The menu has a lot of choices, I thought, for a relatively small place. And the lunch menu is even bigger. Apparently, their regular customers get nutty if a favorite item is removed, so they just keep adding.

I started with a Baby Greens Salad with Chévre and Dried Cranberries. Piled high on the plate, every bite was a delicious taste of goat cheese and toasted pecans. H had Pan Seared Scallops. They were breaded and sitting in a thin drizzle of peanut sauce and served with a Thai Cucumber Salad. The cucumber salad was excellent. Crunchy, sweet and slightly hot, I could have eaten that on its own. Craig had a recipe in his Chinese Cookbook with Virginia Lee that is very similar.

H ordered meaty Duck Breast with a Blackberry Sauce. The polenta was a nice compliment. My pumpkin ravioli were wonderful. I shouldn't have, but I did finish the entire dish. I've had vegetable filled raviolis alot lately, at different restaurants. I've decided that, when not served with a tomato or other deeply hued sauce, the ravioli dough itself should be tinted with either carrot or spinach or even beet purée, which would improve the color of the dish and not really effect the flavor appreciably.

Then the desserts...everything baked on the premises:

The Pumpkin Cheesecake was the best, garnished with pomegranate seeds. If one didn't bake at Thanksgiving, this would be a great choice. The Tiramisu was huge and beautifully put together. Mine is never that tall or as uniform. I can't remember what the individual chocolate dessert was called. Naturally it was good, it was CHOCOLATE. I rarely use a chocolate dessert as a gauge of the chef. If you can't make chocolate taste good, there's a bigger problem than just dessert.

These days my biggest complaint in restaurants is the service. Of course, it helped that we were here with friends of the chef, but every table looked happily engaged and enthusiastically tucking away at the good food in the wonderful atmosphere. If you're in the neighborhood, drop by...but call first for dinner, they're really popular.


Emiline said...

Sounds like a good time. If I'm ever out that way, I'll stop by. The duck and polenta sound really good to me.

Sue said...

Hi Em,

Say hi for me...

Lynn A. said...

I can honestly say, I've eaten at some of the best restaurants in NYC,London, and Paris, and have had better meals and fewer disappointments at Zakes than elsewhere. I love the range of selection; cooking that is innovative, fresh, and sophisticated, without being an over-the-top attempt to fuse too many disparate or exotic ingredients just for the sake of being different; and exceptional value-for-money.

Anne R. said...

I have been a regular at Zakes since Marlene had a bakery in Phila. Their food is delicious. The carrot ginger soup and a slice of the homemade quiche or the duck quesadillas are fabulous. I highly recommed it for a girls lunch or a special dinner. Marlene and Joe take excellent care of diners.

Sue said...

Hi Lynn,

Welcome. I couldn't agree with you more. Marlene actually told us that SHE gets annoyed with over-the-top prices at restaurants, so she doesn't want to do that in her own restaurant.

Hi Anne,

Isn't it nice to have a reliable go-to place? I will definitely be back.