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Salad suitor 

Light bites at Zesto are a fresh alternative to greasy grub

Zesto, one of Atlanta's many hamburger and soft serve feasting grounds, isn't the kind of place that normally would inspire me to look twice. Actually, I've been feeling fed up with the bland mediocrity of the greasy lunches that are the bread and butter of places like Zesto, not to mention our fat-laden American diet. Maybe it's the onset of the heat that doesn't go all that well with heavy meals and grease, but I've had it up to here lately with beef patties, onion rings and mushy fries. The Ponce de Leon Zesto, with its chrome-happy '50s-esque renewal, oodles of tables and super-duper fast-paced service, caught my attention because the greasy grub, especially the chicken, is good, but it's also possible to avoid the deep fat fryer altogether -- a perk since not every day is a deep fat kind of day. What saves this place from simply blending in with other places like it is its big list of salads and tasty fish.

My first experience with Zesto was a soft-serve with the infamous Nut Brown Crown: soft serve ice cream with a chocolate dip shell and a sprinkling of nuts. I like the name. I loved the soft- serve. Both frozen yogurt and ice cream come in chocolate and vanilla flavors, and the yogurt, incidentally, tasted just like ice cream to me. So even with the Nut Brown Crown, you can go high or low on the fat count.

As for salads, vegetarians have a couple of options. The most popular is the big Greek salad ($3.89) served with iceberg, piles of feta, bell peppers, pepperoncini, whole black olives, green onions and cucumber. Big and crispy, this salad puts McDonald's variety of fast food salads to shame. A side salad ($1.99) with iceberg, tomato, egg and shredded cheddar makes a good lunch on a hot day, especially with a thick shake, for which Zesto is rightly known.

One salad that veers clear of vegetarianhood is the Metropolitan ($4.99). With iceberg, cheddar, numerous artichoke hearts, tomato, "bacon" bits and a hefty pile of some damn good, crispy, greasy chicken, this is the most righteous salad Zesto has to offer.

Another menu surprise is the tuna steak ($5.48 for the blue-plate basket with fries and cole slaw; $4.50 for the sandwich only.) Tasting lightly teriyakied, standing about one inch thick and cooked to perfection, it was tasty as tuna steaks go. The breaded, deep-fried, 4 oz. cod basket ($4.65), however, was a little oil-soaked. As far as the chicken and burger thing goes, Zesto is as reliable as any. As far as fast food goes, I like Zesto because you don't have to choose between the same old same old or suffer through a nasty wilted salad. Mostly though, I go for the Nut Brown Crown. u

Zesto, 544 Ponce De Leon Ave. 404-607-1118. Open Sun.-Thurs. 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat. 10:30 a.m.-midnight. Cash Only.

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