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ZOOKZ: HERstory in the Making!

I love supporting local food brands and restaurants, especially those that are female and family owned. My husband's family has been operating a clothing business for over 30 years, so they know how much hard work goes into making a family operation work successfully. But Zookz is special. Carole, the owner, has something that most people have never seen. She calls it "the contraption."

My son and I were on our last summer foodie adventure. We had an errand to run downtown and had been invited to try Zookz new downtown location, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone. The location is ideal on 1st and Washington, near arenas, corporate businesses and the CityScape. I knew that Zookz had some unique looking sandwiches, but had not idea that I was about to hear one of the most heartwarming and inspiring stories of my foodie career.

Carole was born in Egypt, but was raised by her grandmother when her mother died suddenly as a child. She grew up right on the Mediterranean Sea in Tripoli, Libya. Her childhood was happy and adventurous, full of travel and gifts. Her grandmother returned from a trip one day with "the contraption," after a trip to London. She promised to make Carole and her siblings the most amazing sandwiches they had every had and didn't disappoint:

"That same day, Berdjoui made for us our very first ZOOKZ. She drizzled a slice of bread with olive oil and put it on one side of the contraption. She then made a hollow in the bread with the back of a tablespoon and cracked an egg into the hollow, topped it with shredded gruyère cheese, some prosciutto and another piece of bread she had also drizzled with olive oil. She then squeezed the two sides of this new contraption together and held it over a gas flame. The result was the most delicious sandwich I had ever tasted, enhanced by the smell of the toasted bread, olive oil and melting cheese. For me, it was the ultimate comfort food. I craved those sandwiches, but it wasn't just the sandwiches, it was the love that went into them."

Carole has since duplicated "the contraption" using custom made sandwich irons, and now has two successful ZOOKZ locations that are regularly craved by thousands of people here in the Valley. She has the bread made fresh daily and has expanded the original recipe to include thinks like turkey, cranberries and crunchy apples (no. 10), jack cheese, pulled pork and coleslaw (no. 60), and EVERYONE's favorite...a Southwest blend of eggs, bacon, ham, cheddar, black beans, avocado and a TO DIE FOR chipotle sauce (no. 22)!

Bodhi and I came in for lunch, just expecting to try one or two ZOOKZ, but Carole enthusiastically ordered us 5 or 6, so proud and excited to share her story with us in her food. Bodhi had his heart SET on the Nutella, Banana and Peanut Butter variety, so that left me with a TON of food to eat. I had no intention of taking more than a bite or two of each one. That changed.

The sandwiches came out quickly, each one accompanied by a salad of Carole's own creation. The side dishes are light and healthy, consisting of things like a delicious mandarin orange, toasted almond and kale salad, a Greek yogurt and chickpea salad with fresh lemon zest and feta cheese, and a decadent Southwest potato salad with potatoes, chipotle, black beans, corn and green onions.

I couldn't resist burying my face immediately in the no. 22, the most popular breakfast sandwich. The perfectly runny poached egg lit up my tastebuds as the chipotle sauce sang like angels in my mouth. My appetite was instantly ready for more. I was goin' in for the long haul.

The no. 26 is the newest creation on the lunch menu and is filling and satisfying, bite after bite with ham, bacon, tomato, avocado, cheddar cheese, scalloped potatoes and a creamy, picante buttermilk sauce. This was every meal, every holiday and every one of Berdjoui's adventures crammed into a sandwich. My head was spinning in delight, and my diet had gone straight down the drain.

I needed a break. Something lighter. I'm not really a turkey/chicken salad type of person, so I expected the no. 10 to be my least favorite of all the sandwiches. I was almost frustrated to find that it ranked right up there with all the others. It was absolutely STUFFED with delicious, fresh sliced turkey, accented with plump cranberries and crisp apples, crunchy almonds and a tangy, sweet heat mustard sauce. For some reason I expected this to be cold in the center, but it was heated through, with a delicious, melted parmesan cheese. It wasn't quite Thanksgiving (it was better) and it wasn't quite a "healthy diet" sandwich (thank God). It was the perfect blend of both, and I was in love.

Now, let's talk about this Nutella thing for a minute. My kiddo has about 3 loose teeth right now, so he can't really bite into things. The staff at ZOOKS was kind enough to cut this up into some bit size pieces, of which I immediately stole one. I was expecting a sweet, gooey mess that was good for a kid, but not really for mom. Once again, I was wrong. I died. The sandwich on the menu includes almonds, and the kiddo wanted it without nuts, but we didn't skimp on the rest of the ingredients: Nutella, Peanut Butter, fresh Banana and a big dusting of powdered sugar. Seriously people...get yourself something for breakfast or lunch, but go with a friend and split this for dessert. It's truly life changing. The peanut butter and the perfectly toasted bread break up the sweetness of the banana and the Nutella, and the crunchy toasted bread gives it a bit of texture. I'm sure the added almonds give it that extra crunch, but it was amazing just the way it was.

In closing, I'd love to write a bunch more sweet works on how lovely Carole is and how I'd love to do more to support her and her ingenious inventions and delicious recipes, but I've got to go. I'm really hungry for more ZOOKZ. I'll see you there!

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