Zea Rotisserie and Grill: New Orleans in the Magic City

By Jan Walsh     

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Zea Rotisserie and Grill has been a popular dining spot since it opened at Colonial Brookwood Village in 2009. But the original Zea was born in 1997 in Louisiana, so for a limited time the Birmingham location is celebrating its roots with a New Orleans Roots menu.

The Place

In addition to the New Orleans Roots menu available for lunch and dinner, Zea offers a regular lunch and dinner menu seven days a week. Zea offers valet parking, but who needs it when there is covered parking just a few steps from the restaurant entrance? Zea’s bar wraps from the entrance to the contemporary dining room. Here walls of rusty red are paired with golden accents on the chandeliers, sconces and upholstery. The dining room offers seating in view of the bar’s televisions for those who can’t miss a game and cozy booths for those who are here for a power lunch or dinner out. But no matter where you are seated, there is ample space between the tables to ensure your privacy despite the restaurant’s open ambiance.

The People

Founders of Zea Rotisserie and Grill, a multi-location restaurant group, are Gary Darling, Hans Limburg and Greg Reggio. Each has a unique culinary history. Darling came to Louisiana from Los Angeles in the 1970s and ran his own restaurant in Covington until 1983, when he joined Copeland’s Cajun American Cafes.  As corporate executive chef and vice president of research and development, he helped the company grow from a single New Orleans location to a chain of eight restaurants in cities around the United States.  Darling was named New Orleans Chef of the Year in 1983.  A past president of the New Orleans Chef Association, he has served as head instructor and director of the Associations Apprentice Program. Limburg’s multicultural experiences have helped him achieve the status of Certified Executive Chef. He also served as executive chef at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and was in charge of seven award-winning restaurants. Reggio, a native of New Orleans, began his career with Copeland’s of New Orleans and eventually became Director of Training for Al Copeland’s restaurants. Prior to this, Reggio attended the University of New Orleans, School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism, as well as an affiliate school of the American Culinary Federation. Reggio served as president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, New Orleans Chapter, in 2007 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. Together they formed an experienced culinary and restaurant team to develop and operate unique restaurant concepts and to provide a wide array of consulting services to the industry.

Favorite Fare

The gumbo makes a great starter on the New Orleans menu. Zea’s gumbo is a classic roux base filled with savory white-meat chicken, spicy Andouille sausage, plump okra and flavorful roasted vegetables. The large, succulent BBQ shrimp with its butter and rosemary sauce marries well with their mashed sweet potato accompaniment, making a hearty and delicious appetizer.  Shrimp lovers also can’t miss the jumbo shrimp served with a crisp fried-green tomato and a tangy, creamy remoulade sauce — highly recommended. And the Pasta Jambalaya is a plate full of comfort. A delicious creole sauce is enhanced by proteins of Andouille sausage and chicken, served over penne pasta with finishing touches of Monterey Jack cheese and green onions. And who can resist a New Orleans dessert? Zea’s Banana Pudding Cheesecake boasts fresh, sliced bananas drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce, topped with pecans and a cherry. This light and creamy cake is perfect for sharing. If this were not enough, there is even more to discover on the NOLA menu. And we plan to do just that on our next meal at Zea. Tempting dishes that we did not try today, but will look forward to next time, include fried catfish, blackened Gulf fish, fried chicken and red beans, Breaux Bridge Pasta, Grits and Grillades, Creole Smothered Chicken and shrimp etouffee.

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