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Posted August 11, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Zee twist on cuisine

The restaurant offers freshly baked bread daily, served with hummus, as shown, or with capsicum dip or tzadziki. — Rich Cooley/Daily

Lamb Kebab features lamb marinated and then grilled at Zee Restaurant. — Rich Cooley/Daily

Zlatko “Zee” Saravanja holds two lunch main dishes inside Zee Restaurant on Main Street in Woodstock. Sesame Chicken, left, and Souvlaki with potato salad made with olive oil are shown. — Rich Cooley/Daily

Couple's Woodstock restaurant combines Mediterranean food, Australian experience

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The story of Zee Restaurant in Woodstock is one of fortuitous intention. Run by husband and wife team Zlatko "Zee" and Lorianne Saravanja, the Mediterranean-style eatery opened at 121 S. Main St. on June 27.

Having moved into what used to be New York Deli, the Saravanjas said they seem to have tapped onto a niche market. They have something to offer that they said no one else in the area does. Saravanja draws on his early childhood in Croatia and later years in Australia to craft Zee's menu.

"There's nothing like it," Saravanja said, adding that customers have been pleased.

One of his biggest hits is Chevape, a dish inspired by customer request. A Balkan summer delicacy, the menu says, it's made from the combination of various ground meats and herbs rolled into the shape of small sausages and fried in olive oil.

"And we thought it was a fantastic idea," Saravanja said. Chevape made the menu and became a customer favorite almost immediately. Served on a bed of rice with salad, unlimited bread and roasted capsicum dip, the dish is $15 at Zee.

Other menu items are Lamb Kebab, Ginger Chicken, Punjene Paprike (stuffed bell peppers) Australian Pumpkin Soup and Zee Chicken.

"If it has 'Zee' in front of it, it has my own spin on it," Saravanja said.

His wife uses her experience with Web design on the business side, and the couple have included Mrs. Saravanja's mother Justine Steele as a silent partner, aiding Zee in networking and accounting.

"That's what we were excited about, we have all these things that you needed in a team," said Mrs. Saravanja. Teamwork has paid off so far, she said, remembering a recent visit from the health department. "They actually wrote on their website that the owners are very proactive about food safety," she said.

Beginning next week, normal business hours will be Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Thursday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. During Saturday's Route 11 Yard Crawl, Zee will be open beginning at 7 a.m.

It was by happy coincidence that they moved in to the location that used to house New York Deli, which offered an Italian theme. The style already matched what the Saravanjas wanted, so there was little they had to change.

The couple call their style "fine dining at affordable prices."

"It's the cost that determines the quality of the food," said Mrs. Saravanja. Lunch mains range from $8 to $12, and dinner mains range from $10 to $15.

"We've got a lot of on-demand food," said her husband. "You order it, we make it fresh." He also makes bread from a recipe he's developed but keeps top secret.

"I know everyone loves it," his wife said, "if they taste it." Saravanja serves the herb bread as a starter with one of three dips, hummus, tzadziki or capsicum. The tzadziki contains Greek yogurt, cucumbers and garlic, and the capsicum, which Mrs. Saravanja said is Australian for bell pepper, includes Greek yogurt and roasted bell pepper.

"We're going to introduce fish later," she said.

Parents need not worry about fussy young eaters either, said the Saravanjas, who so far have had success pleasing their younger customers.

"The kids absolutely love the food," said Mrs. Saravanja. "Kids-wise, we don't need a kids menu," she said. "One girl had never eaten a thing but chicken nuggets, and she loved the food."

Her husband agrees: "They like the ready-made stuff." Paprikash is a favorite among children, he said. "It's more like a soup and it's just full of flavor."

Desserts, like cheese cake, baked rice pudding and in season fruit shortcake, are also on the menu.

"We make our own baklava, from scratch," Mrs. Saravanja said. Everything except the ice cream and tortillas is made from scratch, the couple said, but they're taking steps to begin offering homemade ice cream as well.

The Saravanjas met online in an astronomy forum, when Mrs. Saravanja was living in Charlottesville and pursuing an English degree at the University of Virginia. She moved to Australia after marrying and lived there for five years, until they moved to Woodstock last year.

Saravanja already had 30 years of experience in food service, and his wife had wanted to run her own business.

"We thought that this would be a great spot to live out that dream," Saravanja said.

Zee Restaurant is located at 121 S. Main St in Woodstock. For more information, call 459-1999 or visit Zee on Facebook.

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