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ERIC BRADY | The Roanoke Times
Adel Eltawansy owner of Zorba's Small World Cafe and Bobbi Jo's Restaurant on Lynchburg Turnpike in Salem.
ERIC BRADY | The Roanoke Times
Black beans and rice with chicken at Zorba's.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Adel Eltawansy , who is widely known by the nickname “Zorba the Greek,” operated a popular booth in the Roanoke City Market Building for years. When he received word that the building would close for renovations in September 2010, he moved out and bought Bobbi Jo’s Pancake House , a 25-year-old restaurant on Lynchburg Turnpike in Salem.
Zorba described his thinking at the time: “I could not sit and wait for the renovations to be finished. I found Bobbi Jo’s, spent several thousand dollars cleaning it up and opened my restaurant.”
Situated off the road in a small strip of stores, Bobbi Jo’s Pancake House & Zorba’s Small World Cafe has a simple appearance. Inside, the place reminded me of a 1950s luncheonette with a bar and stools at one end, booths on the opposite side and along the window, and freestanding tables in the middle. Boards heralding the specials of the day are front and center on the wall. The dining room is immaculately clean.
This casual eatery highlights some of the better known foods of the Mediterranean, as well as popular American offerings. The menu includes salads and soups, subs, burgers, sandwiches on pita bread, vegetarian sandwiches, dinners (including vegetarian offerings) and desserts. Breakfast is featured all day. What is remarkable is that everything on the menu is priced at less than $10 .
During an early lunch hour, we sat at the only vacant table. During the hour we dined, tables turned over quickly. When we left, the place was still full.
A waitress appeared immediately upon our arrival and brought our beverages within moments.
My guest ordered a deliciously seasoned black bean soup ($3.09) and “Leave it to Zorba,” ($9.99) a dinner plate piled high with rice, black beans and a chicken breast blanketed in gravy. He selectively picked at the food but didn’t care for the unappealing presentation.
I selected red lentil soup ($3.09), a thick creamy porridge that warmed and filled me on a cold day. Koufta ($6.69), the famous Mediterranean burger of herb-seasoned ground beef served with tahini sauce, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes wrapped in pita bread proved a satisfying, enjoyable sandwich.
One of my favorite sweets is baklava. It is made with finely ground nuts spread between layers of buttered phyllo and drenched with a simple syrup that sweetens and moistens the delicate dough. The baklava I received here ($1.89) was hard and inedible.
At dinner a few nights later, we decided to mix and match dishes and began by ordering tabbouleh ($4.99), a parsley salad containing chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, bulgur and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. Alas, they were out of tabbouleh. Instead, I ordered a bowl of the delicious black bean soup and a Greek salad ($5.99), crunchy with lettuce and cucumbers spiked with Greek black olives and feta cheese and served with Zorba’s special — and outstanding — tangy dressing.
We also enjoyed the hummus ($5.99), a tasty dish of ground chickpeas seasoned with tahini, olive oil and lemon juice and served with salad and quartered pita bread on the side.
Less pleasing was the baba ghanouj ($5.99), a dish of baked eggplant blended with olive oil, tahini and lemon juice. It had an acrid flavor and came with stale pita bread.
I love spanakopita, the famous Greek spinach pie that consists of feta cheese, herbs, and seasonings stuffed in a flaky phyllo crust. Zorba’s ($7.99) is one of the best reasons to come here. His sandwiches, well made and filling, are top-notch, too.
My partner tried another “Leave it to Zorba,” but disappointment over this messy pile of food led him to order a vegetarian dinner of black beans and rice served with a side of tzatziki and a Greek salad. He left the restaurant contented.
The bottom line
More attention needs to be paid to food presentation. But Zorba offers tasty and inexpensive meals, just what we need during these tough economic times. It is possible to eat well here for $10 or less.
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