1190 16th St. SW
Rochester Minnesota 55902United States
Part gourmet market, part cafe, Zzest draws on top-shelf Midwest food purveyors to craft standout cooked-to-order meals in an open kitchen.
You wouldn't think a gourmet grocery selling Zingerman's ice cream, carefully crafted Wisconsin cheeses, small-batch Minnesota jams and house-made rugalach would find a home in a shopping center that also houses a Chuck E. Cheese. But here it is, just off Interstate-90, waiting for foodies to discover it. We came seeking lunch and choose the daily soup and sandwich combo -- a creamy potato-leek bowl served with a ham, pear and cheese panini on crusty artisanal bread. We pulled up to the mosaic-tiled bar and watched the young chef at work in the tiny open kitchen. The result was a bit of a surprise. The soup came drizzled with balsamic vinegar and was heavily spiked with white truffle oil; both the scent and taste of the white truffle oil was overpowering, so we pushed it away after one bite to focus on the ham panini, which was tasty but heavy on the thick-sliced bread. When the cook, clad all in black, asked what we thought, we told him the sandwich was OK but that something in the soup was overpowering. He quickly offered to cook up another cup without the white truffle oil, and though we were traveling and kind of in a hurry, curiosity won out and we decided to wait. Good thing. We watched as he used a cast-iron skillet to whip up another single cup of potato-leek soup, and the result was a piping-hot creamy wonder that had just the right hint of leek. Our dessert, mini scoops of ice cream from Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio, gave us a chance to try flavors like salty caramel and dark chocolate from well-established foodie businesses we'd heard a lot about. Zzest serves dinner as well; while the food is likely good, the grocery store atmosphere is definitely more casual than we would prefer for an evening out.