Why did the chicken cross the road? Easy. To get far, far away from the searing flames at Zea Rotisserie & Grill, where tender, juicy legs, breasts and thighs far surpass the level of "finger-lickin’ good."
What's more difficult is figuring out what I liked more—the moist meat, the fluffy sweetness of the memorable mashed sweet potatoes or the strategically stacked mound of Thai-glazed ribs. Or maybe it was the naturally sugar-sweet corn nibbles in melted butter. It’s possible that my favorite part of the meal was the dentalwork-busting slice of chocolate toffee mousse.
First, I had to get past the atmosphere. There was nothing terribly wrong with the place, but there was this weird, middle-class austerity to it that seemed sort of posed. Like seeing a family at a casual picnic dressed in stiff, starchy church clothes.
So Zea has a Sunday-dinner-with-the-fam feel. It's a little stuffy, but doable. (Even the staff gets all dressed up, but those I encountered seemed friendly and lighthearted rather than uptight.)
The wine list is middle of the road, with such suburban favorites as Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, Beringer White Zinfandel, Red Rock Merlot, Rosemount Estates Shiraz and Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest of Zea’s menu is rotisserie bistro fare with heavy Creole (Zea is part of a family of restaurants in Louisiana) and Asian influences. Twice-cooked crispy duck ($18.75) is fried in peanut oil, and the ribs come dry-rubbed, Thai-style or hickory barbecue-sauced (half-rack $13.75, full-rack $22).
Let's talk about those ribs. They were baby back pork, cooked to falling apart, laced with a spicy chili-soy glaze, then sprinkled with sesame seeds, shaved basil, green onions and cilantro. They were so delectable I was pondering how piggish it would be of me to have a second order.
I'm glad I didn't suck down another plate, though. The signature Zea rotisserie chicken ($11.75 half chicken) was up next. The skin was crispy in all the right places and dusted with seasoning, encasing such rich, melting sections of perfect poultry that it was difficult to stop eating. In fact, I underestimated how much I could handle without hurting myself.
The plate came with one side dish, but in the interest of exploration I sucked down two: buttered corn and whipped sweet potatoes. You could easily float a cruise ship on the liquid butter surrounding the island of crisp, sweet corn. (I don’t think it’s possible to have too much butter on corn.) The sweet potatoes were whipped to the consistency of dense Cool Whip. To my overwhelming satisfaction, there wasn't a burnt marshmallow in sight.
Yes, I had gone way over the line with all that meat and butter. Even so, an order of chocolate toffee mousse ($5.99) was a fitting, if laborious, end to my gluttonous orgy. This intense, medium-sized slice of Kahlua-laden chocolate mousse was topped with thick chocolate and caramel sauces, toffee chunks, chopped pecans and bittersweet cocoa powder.
Oh, the beautiful pain my stomach felt! I hobbled toward the door, narrowly avoiding running headlong into a well-dressed family in the lobby. If gluttony is a sin, then airmail me straight to the fiery pit. I can’t resist the flesh of a fire-grilled chicken.
The Alibi Recommends:
• Chicken, extra skin if you can get it
• Whipped sweet potatoes
• Chocolate toffee mousse
• Manager Maren says, “The Thai ribs are the most popular thing on the menu!”
Zea Rotisserie & Grill, 4800 Montgomery NE, 878-9327. Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri-Sun 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Price range: moderate. Credit cards, booze, large parties, kids' menu, outdoor seating, catering.