I visited Medellin not long ago, and a friend of mine from over at GringoEng spoke glowingly about a place to get the best pizzas in the city, made in a wood fired oven, and I knew I had to try them for myself. In fact, not an hour after she told me about them we were on our way to find Zorba Café.
I would have missed the restaurant entirely if she didn’t take me there personally (thanks, Stephany!). It’s not that I’m particularly blind: the restaurant has just a simple lamp outside that lights up a simple blackboard with the words Zorba Café scrawled on it. Frankly, it was more apt for a South American jail than a pizza joint.
The sparse jail feel continued inside. The entrance seemed more like a hostel than a restaurant; like a slightly abandoned hostel, in fact. Or someone’s abandoned garage. A polished cement floor in drab grey, incredibly ugly lamps strapped to ceiling with wires. I almost thought I was in the wrong place, but we continued walking until we got to the main seating area, where the bar and open kitchen are, and that’s when things changed. Yes, it was a pizza place. And yes, it was cool.
There was hip music and a relaxed vibe, the ceiling is covered with guadua (Colombian bamboo), and the stairs lead down to an outdoor patio area next to a park for some very natural garden dining. The wood and metal chairs are uncomfortable, but there are bench-type sofas along the one wall. Even though the pizzeria is strictly vegetarian in a country populated with meat lovers, the place was filled up even at an off hour.
A large blackboard near the cashier has an incredibly difficult to understand menu scribbled on it. Thankfully, the printed menus are completely understandable (if you read Spanish, that is).
Juices are served in tall thin glasses. Lemonades come in odd combinations like cucumber and basil, and this is your place to get a spinach and banana smoothie. There are classic cocktails like margaritas and mojitos as well as signature ones; the Zorba el Griego (vodka, berry fusion, lemon) is like a Colombian Cosmopolitan.
We chose the piña loca: vodka, pineapple soaked in vodka and macerated, and lime. It was the densest cocktail I’ve ever had, filled with the macerated pineapple and lemons, but it was a good mix and the fruit was pleasant to eat after I finished the cocktail.
The appetizers were basic and classic. Olives. Focaccia bread. Hummus. Or Camembert with garlic, white wine and rosemary, served with pita bread and fruit. There are only two salads and the rest of the menu is dedicated to pizza. They have five red pizzas and seven white ones. You can choose the Zorba pizza, which gives you the freedom to add the ingredients you want. Ingredients include onion, jalapeño, asparagus, pesto, mushrooms, grapes, sundried tomatoes, basil, olive, arugula, blue cheese, spinach.
The grape, camembert, caramelized onion, toasted pistachio, and rosemary was my dream pizza.
We had a mitad-mitad pizza, where we split the pizza into a double personality and chose different two toppings. The pizza came fast (appropriate for a wood fired oven) and was thin and crispy (appropriate for a wood fired oven), and randomly charred in a few places (appropriate for a wood fired oven). Olive oil, hot oil, and balsamic vinegar was set on the table.
Live music nights are Wednesday and Sundays (when Monday is a holiday) and the world is covered: Jazz, Flamenco, Latin Jazz, world music. The COP$5,000 cover goes entirely to the musicians.
Zorba Café is good for lighter eating when you tire of fried pork rinds, beef innards, and rice and beans. It’s not elegant – more like hanging out in your best friend’s grungy garage, if your best friend has anything grungy. I could have returned every day during my time in Medellin to try every pizza, but we had to eat other things, too.
- Appetizers: COP$6,500-18,500
- Pizzas: COP$13,500-18,500
- Desserts: COP$4,500-6,000
- Juices: COP$3,600-5,000
- Cocktails: COP$10,500-11,000
Calle 8 #42-33, El Poblado (close to Parque Lleras), Medellin