In the past I’ve enjoyed Z'mariks Noodle Cafe’s Z’Mac N Cheese at the Iowa State Fair in 2010 [see blog post], then later that fall the Z’Pesto at their location in Clive. Both dishes were quite good.
This Labor Day holiday I found myself walking the streets of Iowa City looking for good eats. For lunch I visited Z’Mariks’ home location at 19 S. Dubuque St. in the heart of Iowa City’s vibrant downtown district.
Using all my resolve to stave off ordering a large bowl of Z’Mac N Cheese, instead ordered up a small bowl each of the Z’Lemon Sauté – with bowtie pasta, zucchini, spinach, all tossed in a lemon-cream sauce and sprinkled with shredded romano – and to bring on some heat the Z’Thai Stir-Fry featuring broccoli, shredded carrots, snap peas, roasted peanuts, all sautéed in a spicy peanut sauce and served over rice.
The Z’Lemon Sauté’s sauce was velvety and bright with hints of lemon and Dijon mustard. The zucchini was perfectly cooked: the thin-sliced quarters still sporting a nice crunch. Spinach leaves also retain some structure but with just the right amount of wilt. This is no wimpy pasta dish, this is a meal.
In between bowls I tried a few meatballs. Best if ordered as a add-on to a hot pasta dish, the meatballs have a good spring and chew without being tough, otherwise not too remarkable.
The Z’Thai Stir-Fry boasts a sweet, smooth, zesty peanut sauce that leaves a lingering burn in the back of throat. Crunchy peanuts, with some visually appealing spots of browning, reinforce the nutty flavor. The snap peas pack a nice sweet pea flavor and a satisfying crunch. The broccoli is not as eye-popping but the florets trap the zesty sauce, making for a flavorful bite. Shreds of carrot add color and texture, but don’t contribute much for flavor against the background of the peanut sauce.
Service was surprisingly quick. Much more time is spent in queue waiting to order, especially if you come during the height of the lunch hour.
For both unique and familiar flavors, Z’Mariks serves each up in bowlfuls.