Please note: Zest Bar & Grill in Eagan had been open no more than 5 minutes when we walked through the door on December 26th, 2011. Feel free to take the following review with as much salt as you deem necessary following this completely unnecessary admission.
After approximately three weeks of delay, Eagan’s newest restaurant, Zest Bar and Grill just opened at the corner of MN-3 and Diffley in a fairly crowded shopping center which used to house the now defunct and ridiculously named Cuqui’s Cafe. Lazy Lightning readers have been watching this one very closely and have been receiving mouth watering teasers from the GM for months on their menu items and beer list (see the comments below carried over from the teaser post).
With an interesting menu and what were assumed to be decent prices, The Wife and I were excited to head over there and check out the restaurant for lunch on its first day. We were greeted at the door and placed at a table in the restaurant side and a high chair was procured for The Rooster. Our server handed us the one page, two sided, menu and left us to make our choices.
As already mentioned, the menu is a bit different than other South Metro restaurants. While it has all the usual items such as appetizers, sandwiches, and entrees, they all include Zest’s own little spin. With “Grouper Sliders”, “Brie Curds”, and “Apple Bruschetta” adorning the 15+ deep starters menu, at a glance there is a little bit of something for even the most picky of eaters and with prices between $7 and $10 you won’t go broke enjoying a little bite of something while you sit at the bar and down a few beers. In addition to the appetizers there are a number of salads ($5 to $11), 9 different burgers ($7 to $12), 9 sandwiches ($8 to $12) and 10 entrees ($14 to to $21).
We were there for lunch and avoided the entree menu all together. While it’s not out of line to order one for lunch, I wasn’t really interested in ordering a $15 “Airline Chicken Breast” or $21 6oz Filet Mignon for lunch. While I’m sure the 6oz filet is great and all, I refuse to pay $21 for one and I don’t know about you but the name “Airline Chicken Breast” didn’t exactly conjure up “skin-on chicken breast pan-seared crispy, then based with butter and herbs,” however, “greasy, chewy, and microwaved,” came to mind instead. However, after much decision-making we went with the Brie Curds ($7), Half Sandwich and Soup (Avocado BLT and Chicken and Wild Rice) for $8, and Zest’s own expensive play on the traditional Juicy Lucy with fruit instead of fries for $11.
Our Brie Curds were up first. Described on the menu as, “Brie cheese coated in light coconut breading, fried & served with a blackberry compote,” these little morsels sounded just right for the holiday season. We ordered them because The Wife noted, “you just don’t see that anywhere else, definitely something we should try.” They arrived as explained with a little side of mixed salad greens. The blackberry compote was nice and flavorful and you could see full sized blackberries inside. The Wife noted, “they must have picked a good jar for this one!” However, even this nice blackberry compote wasn’t enough to save this poorly executed starter.
On our first attempt of two, 4 of the curds (50%) were missing brie and were just hollow shells. This minor issue was the least of the concerns coming out of the kitchen. While they were replaced with another full order, the brie just didn’t carry enough flavor to pull this one off. When people eat cheese curds they’re looking to taste melted cheese, not so much the breading or the dipping sauce. However in this case all you could taste was the blackberry compote. Even the coconut coating wasn’t providing much of anything except an interesting texture that could have just as easily been pulled off with some Panko. While really nice on paper, the Brie Curds just isn’t worth your time unless you’re fond of paying $7 for blackberry compote and another $15 for Lipitor because you insist on eating the glorified jam with fried dough. Clearly there’s a reason you don’t see this on other restaurant menus…
Eventually our sandwiches arrived. The Wife’s 1/2 Avocado BLT was of a decent size and appeared to have all the necessary ingredients. The Chicken and Wild Rice Soup was a bit on the smallish size but seemed hearty enough to make up for the difference. It also came with an order of fries (all sandwiches normally do) but our server noted this was only because there was a miscommunication as the half sandwich/soup is not supposed to (please note: nothing on the menu states this fact so you’ve been forewarned).
The Chicken and Wild Rice soup was fine. You couldn’t taste much other than cream, wild rice and potatoes and while I didn’t get to it right away and The Wife may have been able to chomp her way through all the chicken, I couldn’t see nor taste any chicken chunks. An acceptable soup with a nice crunch on the wild rice but honestly I’d much prefer something out of a can–and at $3/cup, that’s saying a lot.
Her Avocado BLT was large and came with plenty of bacon. However that was the best that could be said about it. It was almost too large and definitely messy making it difficult to keep together while you ate. The bacon was underdone for a BLT requiring a lot of tearing and chewing to get through it. Both the tomato and the avocado were miserably unripened. The tomato was not red and not even orange, think more of a creamsicle and the avocado was tasteless and hard. I don’t know who thought serving 75% of an Avocado BLT underdone was a good idea but The Wife certainly didn’t appreciate it much. However miserable her food was she did later note that she was “full”.
Zest’s own “Juicy Lucy” is, “stuffed with smoked gouda, topped with braised short ribs & caramelized onions,” and shows up on the menu for an astounding $11. While their restaurant menu doesn’t mention size, their terrible online flash version notes that the burgers are all two 4oz patties. Honestly, this one didn’t look to be a half pound but I couldn’t tell you for sure. The Juicy Lucy itself sounded great. Who doesn’t like smoked gouda and braised short ribs? Add it to a burger and this should have been a grand slam. Unfortunately, just like everything else, this is a big zero.
The burger itself comes slathered with their house “Zest mayo”. This particularly disturbing tidbit is missing from the menu but the server later described this special sauce as mayonnaise mixed with herbs and with a little bit of lemon juice. Another thing that sounds great in theory but fails miserably on the plate. Coming off very much like tartar sauce, this single little bit totally ruined what could have been an OK tasting burger. I don’t know who tasted this combination before and thought that lemon juice went well with braised short ribs, ground beef and gouda but either they have no tongue or don’t know what a good burger should taste like.
The rest of the burger was just OK. The meat was way undercooked for a traditional Juicy Lucy and while I am not squeamish about pink in my burger at all (in fact I welcome it with open arms), plenty of others–especially Lucy lovers–may very well be horrified. Aside from being undercooked, the melted gouda had a blowout on the side of the burger splitting the patties apart. This is a major faux pas in the Juicy Lucy world and to be perfectly honest, this disaster should never have come out of the kitchen and been delivered to my table. Like the Brie Curds, the smoked gouda didn’t have any punch may have just been outdone by the flavor of the rest of the burger. The burger patties tasted by themselves carried a decent meat flavor and while it’s no Nook burger, at $7 for a regular hamburger it would have been edible without the $4 in poorly chosen toppings. However what should have been the crown jewel of this Lucy was the braised short rib and caramelized onions. Lacking in depth, the braised short ribs were totally overpowered by the mostly burned onions. The burned onions were an oversight from the first day of being opening for sure, but coupled with the rest, I really don’t see how even world class short ribs would have been able to save this very poorly executed $11 pile that should have ended up in the trash and not on my plate. But because it did all I can say about this burger is exactly what it was: a piece of garbage.
Even though what came out of the kitchen was below average in every way, our server was excellent. Knowledgeable, confident, and friendly with The Rooster I was happy to give her a full 20% on the cost of the original bill. They took the $7 curds off our order which we didn’t ask for nor need especially after they replaced the entire order with properly filled ones and our bill came to $22+. It’s always disappointing for me to go someplace new and expect poor service due to the recency but find terrible food instead.
Overall I really do believe that Zest Bar and Grill in Eagan had great potential to be a nice little place in what is generally a barren area of town. However I fear that each and every single menu item may only sound good on the menu but in reality the kitchen lacks the depth and finesse required to put it together. A major disappointment to be sure and one I hope you don’t have to repeat yourselves.
Zest Bar and Grill
525 Diffley Rd
Eagan, MN 55123
Sunday to Wednesday: 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM
Thursday to Saturday: 11:00 AM – 2:00 AM
See all the pictures from Zest Bar and Grill in Eagan on Flickr here.