"No 'polar vortex' is going to keep ME from shakes and burgers!" That was my thought last week as I drove up Main Street, heading toward Zoc's Gourmet Burgers and Shakes. How dare a severe weather front think it can overpower me? I have an all-wheel drive sedan and an empty stomach. I am unstoppable! Unfortunately, they were closed due to the severe weather conditions, which is wise, considering the wind chill and poor driving conditions. "You win this round, The Weather. But I'll be back!" I thought.
Upon returning the following evening, I was able to take in the restaurant's environment. From the outside, Zoc's looks like a physically elevated cottage bistro. The interior reminds me of one of New York City's many small restaurants that you just come upon while looking for a quick meal. It looks like the type of place I would take someone who is about to get a burger from a chain fast food place, but you prevent their gastronomic error by saying, "You want a REAL burger? I'LL show you where to get a REAL burger!"
Zoc's dining room is a cool light grey, complete with a hearth and fireplace. An adjacent counter features a few games for families eating in. The walls are decorated with bright pieces from local artist Fleezy. There are four small tables that can each seat four people, a high top table, and a few stools at large window facing the street (that I imagine will be "my" spot in the summer months). The item that first caught my attention, though, was the flat screen television playing "Black Panther." That's what made me think, "This is home."
I was happy to see Zoc's open and ready for business after the harsh weather, and business was apparently good. By the time I arrived, they had run out of a few sides and specialty burgers, but fortunately, I had my eyes and stomach set on a chocolate shake ($4.49) and turkey burger ($5.99). Despite being inundated with GrubHub orders, I got my burger and shake in no time. The shake was almost overflowing from its cup, so it's safe to say they aren't sparing with their portions.
I do not recall having a turkey burger that was so juicy and full of flavor. It had a hint of Old Bay in it that triggered fond memories of my hometown of Baltimore, and lightly sautéed onions, which created a mild flavor that complemented the peppery turkey taste. There was also a house-made sweet-spicy sauce usually used for Zoc's chicken Philly sandwich that I dabbed on the sandwich. It's hard to describe the sauce flavor without again getting nostalgic about Baltimore and DC, because it brought me back to when I'd take an hour trip to NW DC for the sole purpose of getting chicken boxes smothered in mambo sauce.
Zaaqi Johnson, AKA Zoc, is the restaurant's 31-year-old owner. His culinary prowess gave me so many memories of my old home, I had to ask if he was from the Baltimore-DC Metro area. But he's a Rochester native. After working as a line cook in a few places in East Rochester, he decided that he wanted to run his own restaurant, partially because he felt the drag we all feel occasionally when working for others with little satisfaction, but most importantly so that he would be able to spend more time raising his child.
When the space on Chili Avenue became available for lease, Johnson jumped at the chance to strike out on his own and has been working hard ever since. You might think it's far out because of its Chili Avenue address, but Zoc's is close to everything -- it's only 10 minutes from College Town, the South Wedge, Park Avenue, and Corn Hill. The menu is more diverse and dynamic than just burgers and shakes: wings, po' boys, Philly steaks, veggie burgers, custom fries, and quesadillas are all available. And besides the specialty burgers, you can also customize your own. No matter what your interest is, you cannot go wrong for comfort food at Zoc's.