I’m sure you are surprised that the Original Southern Foodie is reviewing a chain, but hear me out.

Zoe’s holds a special place in my heart. I remember when this light-food chain was a single crowded corner cafe tucked in the business district of Homewood, Alabama. Zoe would be behind the counter with an apron on, taking orders. It was her kitchen, and you felt at home there. Her chicken salad was a must for a first-time visitor; many plaques and pictures proclaimed it a favorite of Martha Stewart.

Every lunch, you could expect to find yourself lining up, sometimes out the door, for some fresh chicken salad, pasta, and a sugary sheet cake dessert. You were never disappointed. In a world of greasy fast food and bland meat-and-threes, Zoe’s stood out.

I just thought of it as a neat place, homey and never trying too hard—just serving honest food.

Several years ago, I noticed that the doors of the little cafe had closed. I assumed that yet another good place had gone the way of many other mom-and-pops. Little did I know that Zoe’s son had a vision for his mother’s genius.

I had seen downtown Birmingham and the Summit shopping center sporting brightly colored awnings with the Zoe’s name, but never did I think it was the same restaurant I had known. They looked vibrant, an appealing island in a sea of bland storefronts.

I’m not a fan of chain restaurants, but one day I found myself—in search of a late lunch—venturing into the newly opened SoHo Zoe’s, just blocks from its original incarnation. I was floored!

The food and philosophy are spot-on. Fresh, local ingredients star in menu items homemade daily or while you wait. The chicken salad is exactly as I had remembered, meaty and not too salty.

I have had everything on the menu and made it a point to befriend the management (so they’ll let me try their experimental items!). The SoHo local is now Zoe’s flagship. This spring, I tried their light, delicious pita pizza: pulled chicken, feta cheese, and sliced tomatoes on a large pita, baked while you wait.

A chain done right! I can’t believe I just said that.


Check out the Zoe’s Web site to find a location near you. Eat-in, carry-out, catering, and prepared dinners.