The Disco Ball & The Vegetarian
Leave the kids at home. More on that later.
I somewhat recently discovered a vegetarian, partying paradise. Words that don’t generally go together. An oxymoron. But it’s not. It’s Zest. I was bemused. How exactly did this happen? What revolutionary thought, “Hmm. Chickpea pancakes, baked zucchini mac and cheese, and chocolate beet cake with avocado mousse would be fantastic…with a DJ and a disco ball.”? Casey Staker did. Goodtime guy, SLC legend, and main purveyor of the club scene. Meeting Casey for the first time was a ‘wow’ moment. Lean, blueberry eyed, even keeled, and laser focused on the future of clean, organic vegetarian food and cocktails. And he likes to dance.
Two years ago, burnt out on full-time partying and cruddy food, he cleaned up his dietary act [just enough], went to culinary school, and moved and converted popular W Lounge into a fresh space on 200 West. Zest. An airy, industrial den of food zen. The obvious: vegetarian isn’t for everyone. And neither is Zest if you’re under 21. Because Zest is zoned with one of the coveted Utah club licenses, you can actually order a drink and no food. Of course, that club license also means ‘no kids’. No, not even your three month old, suckling baby is allowed inside. Perhaps a bit inconvenient for some. But for many–including parents–it’s a welcome reprieve. Utterly free of any loose-cannon shenanigans that adorable little ones so often provide. But back to the food, drinking and partying…
The pleasures of eating meat, and gluten are undeniable. For those that don’t [or can’t] partake due to reasons physical and moral, Zest is the holy grail. I’ve eaten here countless times since February. I am well versed in the large menu. I’ve tried and re-eaten everything on it. I’ve been constantly and pleasurably surprised at the depth of options, flavor profiles and consistency of feeling sated. In the spirit of not over-thinking it [and getting bogged down in that healthy and socially-conscious conversation that can be a thudding bore], Zest is for all people. Hungry people that are interested in seriously delicious food that doesn’t feel like denial, people that heartily imbibe alcohol, and people that like a killer dance party. Zest hits on every note.
Deprivation is the surest road to an unhappy eater. At Zest, you will eat profoundly scrumptious food that you will desire again and again. It inspires because you kind of can’t believe it all tastes SO GOOD and is good for you. And filling. That’s the real trick. The food sets off a chemical reaction equating extremely healthy food with the universal love of things that have always felt guilty: cheese, chocolate, burgers. Lunch and dinner are comfortable and relaxed under flattering lighting in the industrial chic space. The DJ and dancing doesn’t get going until the weekends and after dinner service is finished. It’s fantastic all week for casual meet-up for business drinks, Happy Hour hang, or if you just want a nibble and a Kombucha cocktail [or, if your week was a little more intense, a shot of jalapeño-infused tequila]. There is a late-night menu until 1:00am on weekends. Inhale some cashew cheese-stuffed baked mushrooms and keep on dancing. You didn’t miss a beat.
Really, it’s only a matter of time before Zest starts showing up on the national, and international radar. Cooking classes are in the works so you can learn how to perform vegetal wonders at home. And now that the Twilight Series has ramped back up, offset its unfortunate offerings of hangover wine and 3.2 beer with energy-inducing fresh squeezed juice cocktails, organic wines, strong beers, disco ball, DJ and dance floor. It’s all here.
Zest Kitchen & Bar | 275 S 200 W | 801.433.0589
What was the moment when you thought, “Ew. I simply cannot eat garbage food anymore.” What was the meal or food that sent you over the unhealthy edge? I think it was just growing older. You realize you can’t eat junk food all the time–and that soda you just washed down the fries with does not help you get through the day. Trust me, I still like to splurge when I go out to eat but I’m more particular on where I go and what I’m indulging in. My goal at Zest is to have healthy food that tastes great; no fake meats, no tofu, etc. Just clean, locally-sourced, plant-based dishes where you don’t miss the meat. It’s not like we’re asking anyone to BECOME vegetarian, we’re just offering a healthy alternative (other than a salad) to dining out. Of course, we have a few comfort items, like our baked zucchini & cheese, and grilled cheese with tomato soup, but hey…pair it with organic cheese and the cities best gluten free bread, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great meal.
What inspired the vegetarian part? When I started eating cleaner and switched to organic, for me, giving up meat full of chemicals was the next step. I choose to get my toxins from wine, not the food I eat (sly smile…it helps keep me in balance. I was filling a need for myself and others that feel the same way. There is meat all over the city, so why not do something no one else is really doing? Where else can you go for a great cocktail, beer, or organic glass of wine and have a healthy meal?
Which culinary school, books, or teachers got you here? With all my free time during the day, I started picking up cooks books and experimenting in my own kitchen. Classes in herbal medicine inspired the herbs in the cocktails. I have had quite a number of veg/raw foods classes from Joline Wondergem & Janae Devika, as well as training at PURE FOODS kitchen in Tulsa, Oklahoma…but most of it is self taught.
The drinks are truly incredible. I generally steer of mixed drinks because I don’t think that many people actually do them well. I can drink all of yours, disconcertingly, over and over. I’m sipping a straw-bubbly lavender martini right now. Where did you come up with the balanced, tangy sweetness? Working with food is what fostered my passion for cocktails. I don’t drink cocktails either, but damn…who can resist fresh squeezed juices with your vodka or tequila?! BTW, I thought your favorite was the jalapeno margarita?
It was, until I started drinking this. Now I need a keg of it to take home. Since alcohol dehydrates, I like to re-hydrate you with fresh juices, coconut water, etc. Every time I see an herb or fruit, the wheels start to turn, “what dish OR DRINK can I make with this?!”
You make cocktails from kombucha? Yes ma’am. The chock-full-of-pro-biotics fizzy beverage quickly became one of my go-tos. I love anything fermented/vinegar, so it wasn’t a hard choice. I will mix just about anything with liquor…have you tried our strawberry-basil drinking vinegar cocktail?
I have. In fact, I’ll take one now.
I cannot express the love I have for the beet chocolate cake made with coconut oil, almond meal, and avocado. It’s unbelievably decadent. What’s you favorite meal here and most popular items? I love the almond-masala brussels sprouts…I love anything with almond butter, just add the sprouts and we’ve got a winning combo– spicy and creamy. I also love the raw zucchini noodles with fresh tomato sauce, pesto and pine nuts. It just says summer and fresh.
Ever going to give in to my constant moaning and do brunch? You’ll have to disapppint the farmer markets folks, though. Oh wow, yes, we would love to do brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Right now, lunch on Tuesday through Saturday is enough for us…plus we are at the Downtown Farmers Market every other Saturday this year, selling our dips and spreads. Brunch might be something we execute right before the market is done.
You need to franchise. Zest in every airport. After traveling for work especially, when you’re busy and completely crapped out on crappy food, Zest would be a veritable haven to have a clean meal and cocktail before boarding. Is expansion in the future? Wow. Yes, another thing on my list of many things to do. We get so many guests traveling from other cities that love Zest!
Photography/Food/Fashion Direction: Lisa Elin Craighead