Quirky can work, as long as the food is delish. Be ready for terms like: bokkie, padkos, drankies, snaak, lekker and frikkadel. Originating in 2005 out of Savannah, South Africa-inspired Zunzi’s opened its first Atlanta location on Howell Mill Road just inside I-75 across from the U.S. Post Office.
Zunzi’s is anything but pretentious, as meals are served in Styrofoam boxes, and some of the sides, like chips and desserts, are prepackaged. Think bowls, wraps, salads and spreads, tangy, savory, … some Italian, Swiss, Dutch and ultimately South African.
Upon entering there is a sign explaining the upbeat staff and the absolute intention to please. One should not take offense at the use of the words “SH*T YEAH!” which became the motto after an original team member said it after every sentence.
After years of positive and negative responses, “99.99% positive,” according to owner Chris Smith, “We decided to keep it, but enhanced its meaning after realizing that the most loyal fans identified with ‘SH*T YEAH!’ and passionately said it back.” A staff member noted that they refrain from saying it with kids in ear shot.
Zunzi’s staff says they see all types of diners, from SCAD students to families. Smith said, “We are very popular with the trendy Gen Z / Millennial crowd, but also have a very strong family business coming from Collier Heights and area neighborhoods. Our Kinders menu is very popular and includes chips, cookies and a drink, … a bunch of things to keep them busy! Zunzi’s is an inclusive restaurant that wants everybody to have such a great experience, they can’t help from saying SH*T YEAH!”
My favorite wrap was Dutch-inspired Johnny Roll Frikkadel with Beyond Meat, a plant-based protein that is popping up all over, from fine dining to fast food. My “meat” balls were covered with a marinara-like Sheba Sauce with hummus, light cheese sprinkles, spinach, onion and bell peppers. It was a wee bit messy, but the texture was perfect and left no heavy red meat boomerang for someone like me who eschews it to begin with. The “meat” balls are made on a flat top grill. The regular portion frikkadel is $8.99. Large is $11.99.
Everything can be customized in huge romaine leaves as a lettuce wrap, or on pita or French bread. The hummus is indeed different and not at all silky. It’s textured with speckles and a more intense color than those that are heavily blended with tahini.
A close fav was “Rising Sun:” French bread, portobello mushrooms, peppers and onions, squash and zucchini, mixed greens, tomato, avocado, hummus, SH*T YEAH! sauce and Zunzi’s dressing.
We subbed romaine leaves for the French bread. Plenty of leftovers for the regular portion, $7.99.
The staff is effusively accommodating, answering every question about what is in what, and changing just about anything you want to add or omit and forking over samples to taste. They do laugh about the sauces, which they say are “mysteries” and for retail sale over the counter. One server said, “Even we don’t see some of the seasonings. The reps cover up the labels!” The “meat balls” had an interesting flavor I couldn’t identify (maybe even chicory or nutmeg) but it was not overwhelming and certainly added interest for more.
Next visit, I’d go for the Bunny Chow Bread Bowl, which is mashed potatoes (subbing ancient grains), adding salmon, Old Town Indian curry, chutney, peppers, onion and hummus. Sounds like perfect hearty comfort food as winter beckons.
Zunzi’s provides food donations to some offsite screenings for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Smith said, “It’s a great organization and we’re happy to be involved. In fact, we provided food Thursday for the film planning committee.”
Thought was put into serving Byrd cookies (made in Savannah) for $1.79. The most popular is Key lime. The beverages include South African teas and Tractor brand drinks, which are Non-GMO and organic.
Don’t expect formality, fuss or fanfare of a traditional nature, but good food and fun are to be had at Zunzi’s, … if you can get the language down.
Zunzi’s is located at 1971 Howell Mill Road. There are a few parking spots out front, but it may involve some circling the block to get one.