A few months ago, my Ballston Spa friend Geraldine told me that Zest, a catering and personal chef business, had opened a store in the village.
At lunchtime, she saw lines of customers that snaked out the door and workers from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, county offices and Ballston Spa Bank walking back to their jobs with boxes of food.
“It was all word-of-mouth,” she said.
I was curious and asked Geraldine to meet me there last week for a late lunch.
Zest is tucked away on a quiet side street in a small white building that looks freshly painted and remodeled.
There are two tables on the front porch, one of them topped with pots of parsley and rosemary. Next to the building, picnic tables are set up by a garden of herb and tomato plants.
Because Zest is more take-out than dine-in, the inside is taken up by the kitchen, refrigerated food cases and shelves of square and rectangular white dishes used for catering.
WHERE: 3 Science St., Ballston Spa, 763-3500, www.zestcooks.com and Facebook
WHEN: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday
HOW MUCH: $18.61, including coffee and tea
MORE INFO: Visa, American Express, MasterCard and Discover. Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and Paleo Diet options. Street parking, outdoor seating.
With cold weather approaching, customers can dine indoors at a large communal table decorated with a centerpiece of gourds, pumpkins and mums.
Propped up on the counter, the aforementioned dishes also serve as menu boards, with selections written in colorful marker.
I stood in front of those menu boards for the longest time trying to decide, not because the list is that lengthy but because you can personalize nearly every item.
Chicken salad is the specialty, and every day there are three kinds, served in a wrap or on a bed of greens. One day, when I checked Facebook, the choices were cranberry-orange, curry and herbs de Provence.
Each day, there are three soups and a homemade hummus. Salads, quesadillas, grilled cheese and omelets are all “build-your-own.”
Vegetarians, vegans, the gluten-free and those doing the Paleo Diet will find this menu delightful.
Before I even looked at the menu, I was charmed by the row of attractive glass carafes filled with brewed iced teas, unsweetened and naturally flavored with fruits, mint and coconut.
While waiting for Geraldine, I sat on the porch and sipped a tall Nilgiri, an dark aromatic black tea from southern India.
Geraldine, who has been to Zest many times and is hooked on their chicken salad, ordered the pear-and-gorgonzola variety, on a bed of greens, with a side salad of broccoli and pasta, for $7.50.
I went for the grilled cheese special, $8.50, a concoction of Swiss cheese, fresh mushrooms, bacon and caramelized onions, which was appealing because it was a melange of high-quality ingredients and not just a thick ooze of cheese.
My quinoa side salad was outstanding, as tender baby spinach leaves were gently folded into perfectly cooked grain, crumbles of feta and mushroom slivers kissed with lemon and olive oil.
Since Geraldine and I were dining on the porch, I didn’t expect table service, but our lunches, on those nice white plates, were brought outside, with real silverware and autumn-themed paper napkins.
The friendly counter person kept checking on us, too, and refilled our tea and coffee.
“The coffee is always good here,” Geraldine says.
Carla and Eric Kuchar, who came here from Middlebury, Vermont, and have been in the catering business for seven years, run Zest.
Last month, the couple won the people’s choice chef’s award at the 2014 Showcase of Homes in Saratoga Springs. They also bring their food to the Saratoga Farmers Market.
After lunch, I went inside and scanned the case of to-go meals, $8 each.
For my husband, I took home Paleo Beef Tips with spinach, mushrooms and bacon in a red wine and rosemary sauce, which he put in the microwave for a solo meal the next day.
“It was awesome,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]