Stacia BriggsA vegetarian in a burger bar just shouldn't work…but at Zaks it does, as STACIA BRIGGS discovered when she visited the newly refurbished Zaks at the Swan, Poringland.Stacia Briggs
A vegetarian in a burger bar just shouldn't work…but at Zaks it does, as STACIA BRIGGS discovered when she visited the newly refurbished Zaks at the Swan, Poringland.
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A few days ago, I was having a discussion with a friend who was trying to persuade me to come to a barbecue with him.
'Vegetarians are,' I said to him, 'about as welcome at barbecues as a slug in a salad'. And this is true: when you're indulging in a meat feast, the last thing you need to worry about is someone hanging around the fire pit ensuring that nothing drips on to their pathetic vegetable kebab.
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Then I thought about Zaks, Norfolk's very own burger chain, which somehow manages to be a meat-eaters heaven and a vegetarian's haven all at the same time.
Zaks has long-since been the birthday-dinner-venue-of-choice for my family, a restaurant where - for once - no one has to compromise in order to enjoy themselves.
I don't have to settle for a cursed butternut squash risotto, or a rice-stuffed pepper, the carnivores don't have to forgo something meaty: believe you me, if you're a vegetarian, this is nothing to be sniffed at.
On this occasion, we visited the newly refurbished Zaks at the Swan in Poringland, which has been given a makeover and now offers a different slice of American Pie to the other two branches with their more kitsch, 1950s burger bar feel.
There's a sporting theme throughout, although it's subtle and not as kitschy as the memorabilia that decorates the Mousehold restaurant. The walls are raspberry red and there are booths where you can dine in privacy, in addition to tables.
We took a booth right next to the Statue of Liberty, who lit our meal from her torch, although my son insisted she was carrying a glowing ice-cream cone.
The menu is impressively large, and caters for every possible kind of diner, even if you're a dieter (although if you are, give yourself the night off if you're visiting Zaks, you know you want to).
After sharing some garlic bread, �3.25, my son, who is nine, shunned the children's menu on the basis that he now felt sufficiently grown-up enough to attempt a full-size version of his favourite Cheeseburger Deluxe, �8.25. I had the same Cheeseburger Deluxe, but in nut burger form.
My daughter chose the Hot Diggidy Dog from the Zaks Junior Deal, �4.99, where you can choose from a selection of children's meals, such as Zaks Mak and Cheese, Spaghetti and Meatballs, a Junior Burger (choose any burger from the menu and it'll arrive in 3oz form), Chicken Dippers, Chilli and Nachos or a miniature full English breakfast.
Children's desserts cost �1.50 with the junior deal, and a drink is thrown in free.
Finally, their Dad chose the chicken and cheese melt, �11.45, a chicken breast topped with crispy bacon, mushrooms and smothered in jalapeno cheese sauce, which is a house special (alongside other favourites on the menu such as Prison Chilli, �9.95, and Three Steps to Heaven, �15.95, a mammoth serving of chilli, chicken and ribs served with corn on the cob, coleslaw and fries).
The food arrived quickly, which is always a Godsend when you're dining with two people who can't sit still for more than 10 minutes without starting to get twitchy, and, as ever, was exactly what the doctor ordered.
You don't ever leave Zaks feeling hungry. Portions are large, the burgers are cooked to perfection (Cole was right: he could finish an entire 'big' burger) and the American atmosphere adds an extra-special, authentic flavour.
The two non-burger eaters were equally impressed: Ruby claimed she could eat another hot dog immediately, but was then defeated by her mountain of fries, her father left a clean plate.
We shared two full-size desserts from the Ice Cream Parlor menu - Berried Treasure, �4.25, a medley of strawberries and meringue smothered in cream and ice-cream and Chocolate Beehive, �4.25, vanilla ice-cream served with honeycomb pieces and chocolate sauce.
There's nothing like an ice-cream sundae to lift the spirits. I defy anyone to be anything other than euphoric when fighting your dining partner over the last piece of honeycomb (especially if you win).
It's worth mentioning that in addition to the restaurant dining areas, Zaks at The Swan also has a separate bar and a bar meals menu from the Litebites or Swan Specials selection. Handy if you can bribe the children to keep quiet while you sink a quick pint.
All in all, Zaks is a pretty much perfect family restaurant. And they're worth their weight in gold.
t Zaks, The Swan, Poringland, 01508 492420, www.zaks.uk.com.
t Prices: Starters from �3.25, mains from �6.95, desserts from �4.25.
t Open: Mon-Sat 12pm-11pm, Sun 12pm-10.30pm
t Wheelchair access: Yes
t Vegetarian options: Yes