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Culinary adventure awaits at Bay Shore’s Zest; here are 5 dishes to try

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Zest has quickly emerged as the spot for imaginative food that’s unlike anything else you’ll find on Long Island. With the contrasts of sweet and salty, hot and cold, crunchy and soft, the chef’s main goal is to present you with the perfect bite, every time. One thing you won’t be is bored. To help navigate the menu, below are five things to try at 298 West Main St.


Appetizers

Smoked Meatballs (16)
San Marzano BBQ sauce, burrata, pesto

This is Long Island, where meatballs are ubiquitous.

“I wanted my meatballs to stand out from every other meatballs around, is the gist,” said Zest chef and owner Mike Liebman. “Why serve mom’s traditional meatballs when you can go to 15 other places nearby?”

The Zest meatballs cook up nice and soft, like home, but that’s where the similarities end.

Instead of a red tomato sauce, Liebman combines San Marzano tomatoes with barbecue sauce.

“I smoke the meatballs, so I knew I wanted to use barbecue sauce,” he said.

Instead of straight-up basil, it’s pesto, “the best way to have basil.”

Then the meatballs are topped with cold burrata. “The burrata has a nice look and adds a cold component for contrast, which I try to do in a lot of dishes,” Liebman said.

Trust us. It works.

Yelp user Gus C. also chimed in with a recent 5-star Zest review:

“I have devoured meals all over the world, the meatballs w/ burrata & pesto was unbelievable!!!!! The ribs were cooked to perfection. Would definitely recommend this place.”

Smoked Chicken Quesadilla (14)
Ham capicola, aged brie, mozzarella, roasted apples, grilled onions, jicama slaw, avocado ranch

“Ham, apple and brie are very classic combinations,” Liebman says.

So Liebman stuffed it in a quesadilla.

Voila! Classic no more.

But that’s not all, the Zest quesadilla also packs mozzarella, grilled onions, jicama slaw and an avocado ranch.

“I was thinking of a cordon blue, with the ham and chicken. And apples and pork are a very classic combination as well,” he said. “Here, the sweetness from the jicama with the slaw gets you this crunchy burst of vinegar that then cuts into that cheese …”

One thing he notes:

“I made it impossible to just dip the quesadilla; I force the flavors upon you, so you can’t get away from hitting all those flavors and those perfect bites.”

Yes, he wants you to eat that avocado ranch. It’s integral to the app.

Sandwiches

Cajun Salmon Burger (17)
Avocado, poached pear, spinach, crispy shallots, grilled citrus aioli

Zest sandwiches are stacked high, as you can see from the picture. The Cajun Salmon Burger, along with the Cajun Beer Battered Shrimp, are the chef’s two seafood options from the sandwich board.

We went with the salmon.

Liebman didn’t want a basic, fried fish sandwich, so he chose cajun spices. Even if you’re sensitive to spice, Zest works in layers of citrus aioli to help neutralize the seasonings for you.

“Then we had the crispy shallots for crunch and the poached pear for the cold juice, along with the cold spinach,” he explained.

This is one of Zest’s most raved-about items on the menu.

And a delight for those sick of the ole’ fish and chips or basic salmon and cream entrées.

Crispy Panko Chicken Club (16)
Crispy chicken skin bacon, pepper jack, avocado, Pico de Gallo, cucumber ranch

This sandwich will help you remember why you loved chicken to begin with, and is the perfect selection for that reluctant Zest browser.

It’s simpler than the other dishes, but stays true to Liebman’s approach of layering flavors.

“A lot of people think it’s a fried chicken sandwich, but it’s not,” he explained. “I kind of went with a bit of a Spanish flair, with the pico de gallo and avocado, cucumber ranch.”

At first glance, Liebman’s partner, who helps with the wait staff, didn’t think it was “Zesty,” enough.

Just a little too basic, she thought.

Then she tried it.

“Now she pushes it on everybody,” he said.

Pizza

Eggplant Romano (16)
Goat cheese, roasted tomato puree, kalamata olives, toasted breadcrumbs. spinach-basil pesto

There are seven 12-inch craft pizza options on the Zest menu. Liebman loves them all, but suggested the eggplant, the big crowd-pleaser.

“I mean, everyone loves eggplant pizza,’ he said with a laugh.

In the Zest version you’ll find goat cheese, roasted tomato puree, kalamata olives, toasted breadcrumbs and spinach-basil pesto.

“It certainly has that layers of colors and flavors I’m always going for,” he said.

“I was trying to have basic pies that were just different enough from your local pizzerias, but approachable enough as to not scare anyone off,” Liebman said. “I do plan on adding more [creations], though.”

Zest offers vegetarian, meat and seafood pizza options from $13 to $18.

If you go

Zest Long Island
The exterior of the new Zest restaurant, which opened in October 2021. (Andrew Theodorakis)

Zest is located at 298 West Main St. in Bay Shore, just east of the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library on the south side of the road. The phone number is 631-647-4497.

Click here for the entire menu.

The restaurant is also gaining popularity for its catering options.

Lastly, the Zest kid’s menu offers six items, including (our favorite) the English muffin pizza with fries, with prices ranging from just $6 for the pasta with butter, to $10 for the chicken fingers with fries.

Zest foodie photos by Michael White