If you go
What: Cafe Zest
Where: 334 East Bay St., downtown Charleston
Hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
More info: 749-3812
Hard to believe, but Cafe Zest proves a difficult find despite its presence near stalwarts like Ted’s Butcherblock and the East Bay Deli. There’s no signage, but once inside, the months-old cafe may seem familiar to some visitors as the spot once played hosted to the downtown location of Doe’s Pita Plus, a popular vegetarian eatery that closed in September 2010.
Cast in a bright orange and white palette, Cafe Zest shows off smart sensibilities as it entices diners with artisanal breads, French sandwiches (excluding the French dip) and desserts.
Zest serves breakfast and lunch, endearingly titling its menus as “Good Morning” and “Good Afternoon.”
The breakfast portion mostly covers pastries, surefire choices to calm your appetite or sweet tooth, such as quiche ($5), croissants ($3), chocolate eclairs ($3.50), baguette tartines ($3.75), pain aux raisins ($3.50) and apple turnovers ($4).
Lunch accounts for salads and sandwiches, the best of which arrive on toasted brioche or baguette rolls. Zest sources its baguettes from a New York bakery, the bread featuring textbook taste: a chewy, soft interior and crunchy outside.
Try the ham and butter on baguette ($7), or the jambon-beurre (literally “ham butter”), should you prefer. It’s solid as ever: great bread and good, sweet butter.
The roasted eggplant with arugula ($8) could be considered a Sloppy Joe for vegetarians. It’s messy but hits the right notes with roasted red peppers, olive oil and coarse salt and pepper.
The Croque-Monsieur and Croque-Madame also make appearances, along with thinly pounded chicken paillard ($11), and a roasted beets and goat cheese ($10) salad.
Limited seating is available, just two tables and a couch. And hopefully some signage will going up soon, too, allowing others to discover the cafe.