I had the pleasure of meeting Greg and Jennifer Glassman, the owners of Zel’s, at a recent dinner I hosted and my immediate impression was that these were good people. I had heard positive things about Zel’s, so after they extended an invitation to head down to Del Mar and check it out I made my way there on a Friday evening.It turns out that Greg’s grandfather, Zel Camiel, was a permanent fixture in the framework of Del Mar and was given the honorary title of “Unofficial Mayor” as the result of his deep involvement in the community. Zel opened one of Del Mar’s first liquor stores on historic Camino Del Mar Road.
Situated a few doors down from the original Zel’s in the heart of Del Mar, their current location is ideal. The ambiance is anchored by the warmth of the central fire pit and a spacious dog-friendly open-air patio allows for great people watching on Coast Highway. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights guests can enjoy an array of live music including acoustic jazz, blues and up-and-coming singer-songwriters.
Besides the restaurant, there is a lively bar scene that was jumping on the Friday night we were there.
“Our vision was to create a neighborhood eatery where friends and family feel welcome and relaxed,” owner Greg Glassman said. “We have put forth a menu that is approachable and meant to stimulate interaction, conversation and long-lasting memories. Being part of the community is very important to us, participating in local events whenever possible and providing jobs within the community, including our own children.”
We started out with two of the best martinis I’ve ever had. I’ll start with the Zeltini that I ordered “extra dirty” which translates into a little more olive brine. They use Polish Bison Grass filtered vodka called Zubrowka that has distinct clove and pepper notes then they shake with a whole olive to bruise the olive to extract the oils to add a little brininess to the drink.
Żubrówka is unusual because it is flavored with a rare, pungent wild grass enjoyed by European bison. It’s a combination that works on all levels and makes for a great cocktail. My friend had the Cucumber Basil Martini, which is on the other end of the taste spectrum but still very delicious. They use Hendricks Gin which has a hint of cucumber finish to it and shake with fresh cucumber, basil and lime and finish with a little of their house made ginger syrup. If there is such a thing as a refreshing martini, this is it.
Zel’s menu is designed to harmonize seasonal ingredients with the familiar flavors of traditional comfort food. We started with a half dozen oysters that came out chilled, fresh, and went down smooth. They suggested we sample their flatbreads that are made with fresh dough prepared in-house daily and topped with thoughtful combinations of ingredients.
The crispy prosciutto flatbread was delicious. The Lobsteroni was a good dish to share as well with pasta, Maine lobster, asparagus and fontina, asiago, and Parmesan cheese. Other favorites at Zel’s include the Old School Bar Burger along with a Bison Burger, a rotating Fresh Fish selection and a Filet of Rib-Eye served with Blue Cheese Au-Gratin Potatoes.
For dessert we went with the house-made white chocolate bread pudding with bourbon carmel sauce and a streusel topping and vanilla bean gelato.
Completing the menu guests can also enjoy an extensive wine selection, cocktails, and unique selection of craft beers handpicked by Greg. Prices are moderate, with appetizers in the $6 to $15 range and entrées ranging from $15 to $32. Given the location, the ambiance, and the quality of ingredients, it’s a good all round. I should note that for those of you accustomed to late night dining, their kitchen is open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Zel’s Del Mar is located on the historic 101 Highway, at 1247 Camino Del Mar in Del Mar. The restaurant is open for dinner from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
Zel’s also offers Happy Hour from 4 to 6:30 p.m. nightly. On Saturdays and Sunday brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit zelsdelmar.com.