If you drive down East 11th St., an artery in the heart of the Heights, you'll pass a quaint 1920’s bungalow that's been restored and transformed into Zelko Bistro. This small neighborhood restaurant serves natural, organic meals that are easy on the pocketbook, but chef Jamie Zelko and her partner, Dalia Zelko, aren’t only interested in serving food and making money –they want to help save the world.
705 East 11th St.
Jamie and wife Dalia are the founders of the Heights Honey Bee Project, which rescues wild honey bees from extermination and relocates those hives to properties belonging to volunteers who are willing to house them. They were inspired to start the project three years ago after watching the documentary The Vanishing of the Bees. They’re goal was to educate people about a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder and, more importantly, why we as humans should care about the disappearance of these backyard nuisances.
As I learned from watching The Vanishing of The Bees myself, one out of every three bites of food we eat is the result of honey bee pollination.
“We only grow wild bees,” Dalia Zelko says. “We grow wild bees because wild bees are hardier and we want to promote that population so that we don’t depend so much on the commercial bees that have been severally affected by Colony Collapse Disorder.”
Dalia says that the goal of the Honey Bee project is to give everyone in the community a way to help out, whether it is through volunteering their time or simply buying the honey.
Just as interesting is the food sourcing Chef Jamie does at Zelko. She goes through a multistep process to ensure that the ingredients at Zelko are truly organic–not like white cheddar-flavored Cheetos organic. Chef Jamie likes for every ingredient have a story and serve a purpose.
She does a vast amount of research about her ingredients, learning as much as she can about each one. Zelko also conducts grueling interviews with vendors and visits the locations where the food is farmed or grown. Finally, she tastes each ingredient before placing it on the menu.
On my visit to Zelko Bistro, I ordered the Captain’s Chicken for $16 after a quick look at the menu. While waiting for my meal, I was served delicious complementary bread cubes, coarsely sliced and sprinkled with parsley and Parmesan cheese. As hard as I tried, I simply couldn't stop eating them.
Soon, my entrée arrived: two breaded chicken breasts served with green beans, mashed potatoes, and caramelized onions. The mashed potatoes were probably the best I have ever tasted, I kid you not. The chicken was delicious as well, with a sweet taste to the meat and a breaded crust that was perfectly crispy and crunchy.
As I learned from my server, this is because the chicken is soaked overnight in yogurt, coated with a Cap'n Crunch-based breading, fried for two minutes and then baked in the oven. The only downer was the green beans, which were a little undercooked, but I’ve never been a fan of green beans anyway.
Finally, it was time to order the item that had attracted me to Zelko in the first place – some honey. While you can order a small slice of honeycomb at market price, I was encouraged by my server to try the Cheese Plate for $14 (which includes a piece of raw honeycomb) instead, and I’m glad I did. While the honey itself was wonderful, it would have been a one-note experience had I not been able to pair it with the fruits and cheeses on the tray.
Zelko Bistro has homey and relaxing atmosphere (probably because it was once a home). It’s obvious that the Zelkos are committed to high quality and sustainability right down to the Mason jar light bulb covers and the green, sprouting center pieces on each table. And the extra effort Chef Jamie takes in selecting her ingredients makes a huge difference; there's no way mashed potatoes like those came from genetically modified taters or processed ingredients.