Zoe's Kitchen is a chain with over 25 locations across the South. They have two in Houston: Washington Ave. and S. Shepherd near 59.
The chain's "philosophy" is "simple, close-to-the-garden ingredients."
Great idea, right?
On my first two visits, I read the menu and left. Nothing sounded interesting. It was filled with chicken salad, chicken salad and fruit plate, grilled chicken kabobs, grilled chicken pita, grilled chicken dinner, and "protein power plate" (with grilled chicken).
Finally, a friend drug me here, and I found something I liked well enough -- grilled chicken breast with sides of grilled vegetables and white beans.
It is rare to find fast-food white beans. These were full of flavor -- garlic, rosemary. But the beans had been cooked too long. Imagine the texture of runny mashed potatoes. Still, they tasted pretty darn good.
The grilled vegetables had a smoky flavor and an al dente texture. They had not been cooked too long.
The center of the dish was Zoe's "power protein" -- a grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast. Or as I call it, BS chicken. It was coated with olive oil and some flavorful herbs. As BS chicken goes, it isn't bad.
The problem with BS chicken breasts
This dish left me wondering: why do so many Americans prefer BS chicken breasts?
If you care about flavor, and you have cooked many chickens, you learn a few things:
1 - Dark meat has more flavor. Ok, I understand that the world is divided between white meat fans and dark meat fans. But it is beyond dispute that dark meat have more concentrated chicken flavor. If you want to get "close to the garden," that is what chicken tastes like.
2 - Chicken tastes better when cooked on the bone with skin. Even if you don't eat the skin, cooking with skin and bone improves flavor. They add meatiness, protect the meat, and prevent drying. If you take off the skin, then you need to compensate with a lot of oil.
In short, BS chicken breast is chicken without all the flavor.
Why BS chicken?
Sure, a lot of people argue that BS chicken breasts are healthier. But I doubt the difference is very significant. I also think there are two other real reasons Americans prefer BS chicken:
1 - BS chicken fans are afraid of meat. They are the same people who don't eat a fish with the head. They fear body parts like skin and bone.
2 - Many BS chicken fans think of meat as "Protein Power" -- a industrially-produced substance divorced from the animal that created it. These are often the same people who drink protein shakes. The blander the better. For them, food's sole value is nutrition -- not enjoyment, not art.
BS chicken fans might as well be eating soylent green.
End of my rant
For a chain, Zoe's isn't bad. Some side dishes are pretty tasty.
I only wish that more restaurants would at least give us a choice:
Can't you at least offer dark meat?
And can't you serve some chicken that isn't BS?