April 27th, 2010

Zelko Bistro: A Commitment to Community

In 5 Words: Fresh, Community, Local, Produce, Passion

In a small, restored bungalow on 11th Street, sits the newest eatery in the Heights. Zelko Bistro, the new endeavor from partners Jamie Zelko and Jeb Stuart, opened last week and has been busy ever since. I sat down with both Jamie and Jeb after eating dinner at their new restaurant to discuss the business, the vision, and community. What they had to say should be warming to the heart of anyone who loves the idea of true neighborhood and good food coming together.

Jamie Zelko and Jeb Stuart both live in the Heights and the passion that they have for the neighborhood is undeniable. The idea for the restaurant has its roots in the Heights, says Jamie. “I wanted to make this a truly neighborhood restaurant and have it represent the population of the Heights. I passed this exact spot when I was in culinary school. It was a run down bungalow at the time, but I thought, ‘Something like this would make a great location for a restaurant.’ I had no idea that that exact bungalow would become Zelko Bistro.” The decor is simple, but has the charm of a French bistro and according to Zelko, took a lot of time to perfect. “We wanted everyone to come and enjoy a good meal in a welcoming environment.” I would say they have accomplished just that, with the main seating being a large leather bench that stretches the entire east side of the restaurant. There are no fancy tablecloths and the napkins will strike some as rustic. The focus here is the food and the relationships being made.

Jeb was straightforward in his description of who is welcome at Zelko Bistro. “From college kids wanting to go on a date without breaking the bank to people wanting to get fancy mid-week to someone who just cut the grass and wants to head over to get a beer.” Their hands-on commitment to community was obvious during my time there. Jamie was on her game as we ate, making her away around the dining room, saying hello, and insuring that food was being delivered correctly. Jeb could be found chatting up folks at the bar and the hustling to help a table decide on a bottle of wine.

Speaking of wine, Jeb has a few surprises up his sleeves. He has 15 years of experience with beer and wine and has what seem like a simple goals for Zelko Bistro: To find up and coming wines, support smaller wineries, and make it affordable for the customer. “I’ve matured over the years and I wanted showcase wines that compliment Jamie’s food. The philosophy here for wine is the same that you’d see at a bistro in France; wines driven by fresh fruit and perfect acidity”. The wines are priced at a point, around $30, where people can experience different wines without breaking the bank. Expect the wine list to change fairly regularly as well. “I like the constraint of a smaller wine list, it allows me to change it all the time and explore the ocean of great wines that are out there. My goal is to constantly change the list and eventually have three reds and three whites available by the glass everyday.” The beers are priced just as competitively, I had a Abita Turbodog for $3, that’s better than almost any bar.

That brings us to the most important part of any restaurant, the food. Jamie has hit the proverbial nail on the head, not just with her menu choices, but also in her supplies and preparation. “We are getting our vegetables not just from local farmers markets but I have relationships with a farmers market in Santa Monica to provide produce when I am not able to find something here. All produce is American,” says Jamie.

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On this particular evening, my wife and I sampled the fried pickles to start, I had the braised short ribs and my wife had the farmhouse melt. Fried pickles, is there really any other appetizer as mouthwatering? The ones served at Zelko Bistro are gherkins that were quartered, lightly battered and came with a side of the homemade ranch dressing. Their tart flavor was mellowed by the dressing and they were overall very satisfying.

When the mains arrived, I was overwhelmed with the smell of the short ribs. They are served on top of cheesy polenta and swiss chard and fittingly I dug into the polenta post haste. Let me say, I could end the write-up right here and just tell you to go to Zelko Bistro simply for the polenta, but that would mean missing out on even more tastiness, but seriously, the polenta is that good. The short ribs, prepared using Saint Arnold’s Root Beer, were moist with that perfect seared crust that one loves. The flavors reminded me of grandma’s house but without all of the family drama. I savored every bite and when I was finished, I wished for even more.

My wife’s Farmhouse Melt was, in her words, “delicious.” It consisted of bacon, prosciutto (yes, both), a bunch of different cheeses, and tomato served on Slow Dough Bread Company bread. The accompanying fries – which I happily helped myself to – were fantastically light but crispy. It was a perfect portion as well and that’s where I think Zelko Bistro excels even more. The portions are just right for the price. Like Jeb said, a decent date night can be had here without breaking the bank.

Last up was dessert. There are a plethora of options on the menu, including funnel cake and a banana split. We opted for the lemon cream pie and ended in what was the only slight mixup the entire evening. The waiter accidentally brought a slice of coconut cake; He quickly apologized but encouraged us to enjoy the mistake on him. Both were delicious desserts, though neither my wife nor I are coconut fans. The cake was light and fluffy and had an amazing icing while the lemon cream was mellow with a very well done graham cracker crust.

Overall, I am very happy to have Zelko Bistro in the Houston Heights. Jeb and Jamie are striving to bring a neighborhood restaurant to the area and they have succeeded. Between great food, a well priced wine list, and owners who want to see the ideals of neighborhood and community continue, Zelko Bistro is the perfect place for a date, a laid back dinner on the patio, or a quick bite at the bar for brunch. I should point out that if you are expecting to call in and get reservations, you need to be prepared to be told “no.” Jamie and Jeb are somewhat adamant about the idea of making this a casual, laid back restaurant with no reservations. It’s first come, first serve.

One thing that Jamie mentioned during our discussion was the support of her venture by other local chefs, including James and Meagan Silk of Feast who stopped in and gave their words of praise one afternoon. “Having the support of the community of chefs in Houston is a great feeling and knowing that there are other folks out there who believe in what you are doing keeps me fired up.”

Zelko Bistro is open for Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays at 10am. The patio is not yet ready for food service. The bureaucratic fat cats always seem to have the habit of holding up a good thing with paperwork. It will be open soon, but not on Mondays. They are closed Monday.

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Where – 705 E. 11th St., Houston, TX 77008 (View Map)
What – Down home comfort food in a friendly environment
Wear – Come as you are
How Much – Affordable, very affordable.
When – Tuesday thru Sunday, 11am-11pm; Brunch on Saturday and Sunday starting at 10am.
Webhttp://zelkobistro.com

— Stephan

Comments

Johnny Lutz — Tuesday, April 27, 2010 10:54 pm

Love it!!! Congratulations to Jamie, we have been waiting for you to open forever!! Great job Chef!
xo,
Johnny and Bella

Andrew — Thursday, September 1, 2011 12:47 pm

Love Zelko, live down the street and very lucky to have shrimp & grits so close to home. Same price for a pinks pizza, so you can guess my choice!

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