It’s been a while, but I’m back with a series of reviews this summer and I’m ready to roll.
Recently, I popped in to the new West Hartford cafe, Zest 280. It’s a pretty adorable little spot just opened by the chef who runs the very delicious Pond House Cafe, and WH is shockingly devoid of casual, veg-friendly eateries, so game on!
I checked out the menu online in advance and was happy to see lots of sandwiches, salads, and noodle/grain bowls which usually just about guarantees decent veganizability (new word, just made that up). The cafe is a very cute mix of seating with an outdoor patio for prime Park Road people-watching.
The reality of Zest’s offerings was a little less vegtastic than I had imagined, however. All of the salads automatically included meat or cheese, and while I’m happy to ask for a sans-animal order (and the waitstaff was more than happy to accommodate), it always seems weird to me when a restaurant does not offer a single salad that is already vegan. It’s salad! How America became obsessed with adding meat and dairy to a dish that is inherently vegan is beyond me. Bonus points for offering tofu as an addition, but still. After removing half of the items that already come on the salad, plus an extra couple bucks for tofu, I don’t think I’d be left with much for my money. End rant.
I’d heard great things about their arepa, and the server assured me that the corn patty itself was vegan, so I excitedly ordered it without cheese or sour cream on top – BUT, after the others at my table were served, I was told that in fact the arepa mix itself has cheese in it. Another bummer.
Our server was incredibly sweet and apologetic and brought me a complimentary cup of their vegetarian chili (ask for no cheese) while I looked for another option.
Redeemed! This chili was delicious – full of lots of beans, sweet potatoes, and perfectly spicy/sweet. Plus chips for dipping = I was happy. I’d order the larger bowl size next time for my full meal.
The sandwich menu at Zest is a little more veg-flexible – a Zestwich has marinated eggplant, grilled artichoke, chipotle hummus and grilled peppers on foccacia (ask if the bread is vegan!), and their spicy chicken wrap has a spicy tofu option (ask for no cheese). They also offer a soba noodle bowl, with a noted vegetarian broth (thank you!) chili, lime, edemame, tofu, veggies and avocado.
I went with what I thought would be a lighter choice – I was already almost full after that small but hearty cup of chili – and ordered a make-your-own grain bowl with brown rice, lentils, rapini, peppers and avocado (tofu is available as well).
This dish was beautiful, clean, and perfect for what I needed. The broth in the bowl is light and not overly flavorful, but the veggies and grains don’t need much – they’re pretty delicious on their own. We also ordered sweet potato fries to share, because sweet potato fries.
They were super good.
Zest 280 has some creative daily specials that may be veganizeable, and a nice menu of refreshing drinks – ginger iced tea and coconut lemonade were both very tasty. They also have fresh, seasonal house-made juices that change regularly. Desserts are not vegan.
I enjoyed Zest 280, despite a few obstacles. The food was tasty, the service quick and the atmosphere was fun… and it’s really great to see new spots open with vegan options and plant-based proteins on their menus!