Nestled right on the corners of Washington and Hawley Street sits a quaint and unassuming restaurant with a somewhat peculiar name: Zona & Co. Grille. To the average passerby, it may seem like you typical hole-in-the-wall type of eatery but if you take a step inside, or better yet walk past their outdoor patio on any sunny spring or summer day, you’ll learn very quickly that it is far from average.
So what makes this place so unique? It could be that the menu offers everything from cheeseburger sliders to buffalo fried shrimp and fillet mingnon tacos or maybe it’s the feeling you get when you walk in. A long counter bar takes up a good majority of one side but on the other there’s room for booths, tall and short tables to better enjoy your meal. It’s a place you can take your Bio 111 crush out to for a nice date but it’s also a place you can go when you need a few quick drinks to unwind from a hectic week, without feeling out of place.
Speaking of drinks, they have plenty. I’m a sucker for a good girly drink. If it’s fruity, some fun shade of the rainbow and tastes like extra sugary Kool-aide, I’ll drink it. If that’s your style I’d definitely recommend the Blueberry Pomegranate Margarita. It’s made with a fresh blueberry puree, a splash of sour mix, sprite and pomegranate vodka.
My personal favorite was the Zonarita, a drink made with House Tequila, Blue Agave, a little bit of lime juice and club soda. It almost tastes like wine but after a few sips you’ll learn really quickly it packs a punch wine never will.
In between sips, I took a minute to familiarize myself with the enormous plate of nachos that I had ordered. Atop an array of black white and yellow corn chips was the most ridiculous heap of black beans, jalapeños, pico de gallo and melted queso I’d ever seen.
On the side was a bowl of guacamole and holy moly (lame pun totally intended) was it good. I hate guacamole. It takes a tremendous amount of effort for me to eat it but trust me when I say, this guac is worth eating. It wasn’t heavily seasoned nor was it overly mushy. It was just right, kind of like that porridge in that Goldilocks story.
Continuing on with my fiesta of food, I ordered the blackened chicken quesadilla. For those unfamiliar with Zona’s, the quesadilla is unarguably the highlight of any trip. Served on a 12 inch tortilla and stuffed like it’s a calzone, this quesedilla is unmatched by most contenders. Now it’s a huge peeve of mine when the protein in a quesadilla or a burrito isn’t seasoned well or is just blackened with “grill flavor” but this was not the case. The chicken was seasoned well and wasn’t burnt to a crisp – it was blackened just like the name implies.
Well-seasoned dishes became a theme for the evening as I continued to plow my way through plate after plate of mile high food. Somewhere in between the meatball sliders and my third drink of the night; the Zona, a green tea and hibiscus infused drink with some fruity zest of lemon orange and cranberry, I had a chance to sit down with the owner of Zona’s Mike Tulsey to find out what inspired him to take a chance and create such an eclectic restaurant.
While chowing down on a nice slab of freshly prepared fillet mingnon, Mike revealed that this was going to be a new feature on the menu in the coming months priced at a very reasonable $20. I also was privy to a lot of the ambitious plans he has including: a lunchtime deli service, sushi additions to the menu, and a build your own salad feature.
Needless to say he has some pretty lofty goals for this relatively new downtown eatery. Some might say it’s too ambitious but, Mike has the credentials to back it up. He’s had holdings in many other Binghamton favorites like Number 5, Remliks, and Lampes and has been in the restaurant and fine dining industry for over 20 years.
What I like best about Zona’s is the innovative approach they have to dining. The drink menu is plentiful and the dining menu is constantly evolving with new and inventive ideas. A few weeks back I actually had the pleasure of trying a Butter Burger that was being advertised on Facebook. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, a burger slathered in butter. It was delicious. But it’s the little nuisances like those that make Zona’s a unique restaurant in a small town setting.
Location: 15 Hawley St., Binghamton, New York 13901
Hours of Operation: Mon: 4:30 PM- 11:00 PM; Tues- Fri: 11:30 AM-1:00 AM; Saturday: 4:00 PM – 3:00 AM; Sunday: 4 PM – 8 PM
A special thanks to Zona & Co. Grille for providing us with a tasting for this review