Only in a food town like Charlottesville do you find “anglo-franco tapas style comfort food” served up in a former service station. Zinc, the bistro on Main Street where you can get anything from fish and chips to steak tartare with quail egg, has a lot going for it. The beautiful courtyard patio feels far removed from the street and is one of my favorite outdoor eating spots. The bar area is cool and usually uncrowded, and the interior hints at its garage past while showcasing an open kitchen and funky industrial feel.
The menu reinforces the quirky blend of personalities with a wide range of options for most tastes. Fortunately (or perhaps not), the small plates approach means you can sample many things (or tremendously over order and stuff yourself). Local produce is represented well with grilled pattypan squash and an heirloom tomato salad, among other veggie sides. As expected, French bistro classics also make a strong showing, including the best Croque Madame in town. For those of you who don’t know this delight: ham, gruyere, bechamel sauce sandwich with an egg on top. Oui!
On our most recent visit, the beef burgundy special was tender and nicely flavored, although the ratatouille and onion tart were just so-so. We also tried the mac and cheese for the first time. I divide the world into two types of people: those who like breadcrumbs as the topper for their mac and cheese, and those who prefer just another no-frills layer of melted cheese. I’m in the melted cheese camp so I found Zinc’s mac and cheese too dry for my taste, but I’d be curious to hear from one of the Others (breadcrumb camp) for their take.
While we have enjoyed most dishes at Zinc, predictably the fries elicit the greatest enthusiasm. They have that ideal bistro flavor of perfect crispiness with salty seasoning and rival neighbor Horse and Hound for best gourmet fries in town. In fact, they both come in silver buckets. Who’s up for a bucket of fries eat-off?
Jed says: “Get the amazing beet salad with a side of fries for a delicious, ‘light’ dinner.”
Rating: Erin: Jed:
Pros: Good indoor, outdoor and bar ambience, fabulous fries, diverse menu, lots of veggie options.
Cons: Little plates can add up on the wallet and stomach.
Price: $5-10 for small plates, $10-15 for entrées.
Parking: Free parking behind the restaurant.