We drove into Tarpon Springs tonight to have dinner at Zante Cafe Neo. We walked right by it thinking it was a thrift shop. This has to be the most unusual decor I’ve ever seen in a restaurant and there was lots of it. It was like someone emptied out grandma’s attic, hit a few garage sales, and then dug in the back of everyone’s closet. The photo below is the view from the entryway.
We were seated by the owner’s 13 year old daughter who was also the waitress. There were other kids doing homework at a nearby table and another young lad brought us some dinner rolls.
These were some mighty fine rolls. Buttery and slightly crunchy on the outside, soft and delicious inside. They also came right out of the oven.
Everything here is freshly made, so takes a while to come out. Trust me, this is a place where the phrase “Your patience will be rewarded” is so true. Luckily, while you wait, you have quite a bit to look at. Every time I turned my head, I found something else odd and unusual around me. From the full sized cut out of Johnny Depp dressed as the Mad Hatter to funky lamps to a drawing of Sean Connery.
Our dinners both came with a choice of soup or salad and we both went for the gumbo.
Delicate flavors in a thin broth with chicken, okra, and other veggies. It was so warm and cozy on a chilly night. There wasn’t a drop left in either of our bowls.
We ordered the Louisiana crab cakes as an appetizer.
All crab, no fillers and quite delicious. The Creole Remoulade wasn’t spicy, but added a nice flavor to the crab cakes. Everything we’d eaten so far left us craving more.
Did I mention the rolls? Yeah, we needed another batch of those.
Fresh out of the oven a second time around. Normally, I don’t like such a long wait for food, but it was well worth it.
And then came the entrees. Loren ordered the jambalaya and I ordered the crawfish etouffee. Our waitress asked what spice level we wanted on a scale of 1 to 10. I picked a 1 and Loren picked a 6 for his dish. I also asked to have the scallions left off of mine.
This is my etouffee with scallions on it. There weren’t that many, I just assumed she didn’t hear me when I asked that they be left off. She saw me picking them off the dish and said the chef must have mixed up the dish because Loren’s didn’t have any scallions on his and normally the jambalaya has scallions. (I’d already transferred a few of mine on to his plate before I took the photo)
So, as I’m picking off the remaining scallions, Loren starts to eat his and says it’s really not all that spicy for a spice level 6. Just as I’m about to take my first bite, it dawns on me that if the scallions ended up on my dish, there’s a good chance the spice level did too. Oh yeah, wimpy me ended up with a spice level 6 etouffee. If it hadn’t been so tasty, I probably wouldn’t have eaten it. It definitely had some spice, but it wasn’t a killer. They had to refill my water glass a couple of times though.
Both dishes had wonderful flavors to them. The jambalaya had a smoky flavor and had chicken, shrimp, and sausage in it. Mine had tender crawfish, onions and mushrooms in a dark roux etouffee sauce.
They also brought us a slice of pumpkin pie and pecan pie to make up for the mistake with the spice levels.
They were both pretty good. The table next to us had bananas foster and when the chef came out and flambed it at the table, I was thinking that’s what we’re having next time. And yes, there will definitely be a next time.
Total bill was $51. Absolutely worth every penny for the made from scratch, authentic food we were served. Though I’m not a fan of having children as waitstaff, I have to say, she was very polite and took care of us just fine. And when we got the bill, she had absolutely written down our order correctly and the kitchen mixed them up.
Zante Cafe Neo
13 N Safford Ave
Tarpon Springs, FL