Zacharias Creek Side Café
2960 Skippack Pike
Nine years ago, when I first reviewed Andrew Gallo’s Zacharias Creek Side Café, the restaurant was very much the new kid on the block, having just made its debut in the Center Point Shopping Center. Now, almost a decade later, without appearing immodest, my original prediction – “There is absolutely no question that Zacharias Creek Side Café is destined to become exceedingly popular” – has certainly come to fruition.
The restaurant’s interior design – courtesy of David Bruce Michener of Interior Dimensions Studio, who is also the decorative & artistic force behind Philadelphia’s late Le Bec-Fin, the Clubhouse at Coldstream Crossing in Phoenixville, Spice Kitchen in Lansdale, and Gino’s Ristorante & Pizzeria in Norristown, as well as numerous other restaurant & commercial projects – is an eye-catching amalgam of Modern & Mediterranean accents replete with textured abstract walls and striking mixed medium sculptures. Zacharias also boasts a bustling open kitchen and an attractive 50-seat front patio for al fresco dining.
And the cuisine, which may best be described as Mediterranean & Italian fare with eclectic subtitles, is every bit as impressive as the décor. You begin, for example, with a diminutive island of black olive tapenade floating in a sea of extra virgin oil; the perfect complement to the beautifully textured house-made focaccia – and a delicious harbinger of the good things to come.
Appetizers offer a wide range of possibilities, ranging from Turkish fig tapenade on toasted crostini and Mediterranean pizza to crispy chicken livers, smoked duck & apple brandy sausage, and fried calamari. That being said, however, it’s difficult to top the luscious antipasto for two (pictured). In contrast to the usual innocuous representatives of this particular genre, the assortment proffered here includes perfectly grilled vegetables and earthy marinated mushrooms, as well as cured meats, wedges of aged provolone and shavings of mozzarella.
Several other preludes, however, are equally commendable… the recently sampled ceviche, for example. This is a seafood dish that is extremely popular in Mexico and regions of Latin America. It is typically made from fresh raw white fish that is cured (“cooked”) in citrus juices. Zacharias’ kitchen prepares it with lemon juice, tomato, cilantro, tiara of chopped avocado, and serves it up with saltines. The fish is pristinely fresh and the spices are just potent enough to invigorate rather than incinerate your delicate taste buds.
I also highly recommend the turkey meatballs. This is an appetizer I wouldn’t ordinarily order, as turkey anything can be the-bland-leading-the-bland unless properly seasoned – which it certainly is here. Yes, the meatballs had flavor to spare, were exceedingly moist, and were pillowed on a verdant bed of perfectly sautéed spinach. The real star, however, was the incredibly tasty honey-soy-ginger sauce that glazed the meat and permeated the greenery. A definite winner on all counts. By the way, for a variation on the theme, be sure to try the bison meatballs in Burgundy gravy.
As you move on, you will find that the main courses offer a variety of options that are every bit the equal of the apps. Matters piscatorial are represented by pan-seared wild salmon in a citrus beurre blanc, spice rubbed Saint Peters fish, and sesame-ginger crusted ahi tuna. All quite excellent. Meatier matters include stuffed pork tenderloin and house-braised short rib. And for those who can’t quite make up their minds, the restaurant also offers a top-notch surf and turf, headlining a 4-ounce filet and crab cake adorned with a red wine demi-glace and tomato & horseradish aioli, respectively.
During our most recent visit, however, my dining partner and I were feeling Italian and lyrical… so the eggplant Napoleon immediately drew my attention. Like its kissing cousin, eggplant parmesan, this is a relatively simple dish, but one that is easily mucked up. Zacharias’ Napoleon consists of two generous slices of perfectly sautéed eggplant swimming in zesty house-made marinara topped with a crown of delightfully gooey melted mozzarella. The key, though, is the texture. The bite is just right; neither too firm nor too mushy. The ultimate in Italian comfort food.
And my partner’s tagliatelle alla Bolognese is another winner. Tagliatelle (from the Italian tagliare, meaning “to cut”) is a traditional type of pasta from the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy. Individual pieces are long, flat ribbons that are similar in shape to fettuccine. Tagliatelle may be served with a variety of sauces, but the classic is a rich meat sauce or Bolognese. In this case, Zacharias’ kitchen pairs the al dente stands with a lush & lusty wild boar ragù.
By the way, if you’re into gastronomic trivia… Legend has it that tagliatelle was created by a talented court chef in 1487, who was supposedly inspired by Lucrezia d’Este’s outlandish hairdo on the occasion of her marriage to Annibale II Bentivoglio. In reality, this was a joke invented by humorist Augusto Majani in 1931.
To conclude your evening at table, desserts, all made in-house, are simply not to be missed. When it is available, the Key lime cheesecake is always a sure bet. But when any combo of chocolate and peanut butter is in the offering, I simply can’t resist. Recently sampled, for instance, was the absolutely decadent amalgam of dense chocolate cake, peanut butter icing and caramel glaze. Fabulously rich and – notice the two forks – quite suitable for sharing.
Zacharias Creek Side Café continues to turn out an outstanding array of lovingly prepared and presented cuisine. Highly recommended and always worth a visit… just don’t forget to BYOB.