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Z's Cafe marks the spot for delicious home-style eats

Z's Cafe

Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth

817-989-2233. www.zscafe.com

Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday


Posted 1:42pm on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010

"Try the chicken salad," says a customer while I wait in line at Z's Cafe. "It's their best."

She made things easy. I'm usually so indecisive.

It's a short wait, with one adult and a few kids in front of me. I'm inside the Community Arts Center, the former home of the Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth and the current home of Janet Capua's Z's Cafe, a restaurant and catering business going on two years.

The chicken salad ($5.99) is Capua's specialty. Even the menu indicates it's "world famous." And why not? Janet herself spent time delivering it, door-to-door, before opening her cafe. Around here, people are familiar with her sweet classic.

"The tarragon plays off the bitterness of the dried cranberries," she tells me after I ask her about the chicken-salad secrets. The rest is a savory combination that includes shredded chicken and chopped celery. As a sandwich, it's her most popular item and makes a trip to Z's Cafe completely worthwhile.

But that's just one dish that's made Capua a local favorite, after she spent 40 years examining mouths as a dental hygienist. I know: It's ironic.

The whole menu is full of classic comfort dishes, no doubt inspired by Capua's father, John Zito, for whom the cafe is named. Ham and cheese ($5.99), lasagna ($7.99) and roast-beef sandwiches ($5.99 each) -- it's all there; its the stuff most of us had as kids.

I heard macaroni and cheese ($5.99) requested no less than six times. Creamy and thick, it's served plain, without a garnish or any seasoning. It's simple but delicious, and proof that even the most basic dish can be a delicate entree in skilled hands.

The bow-tie pasta salad ($5.99) is no different. Lightly covered in a tangy dressing, Capua's version is sprinkled with Cheddar and Parmesan. Tiny red pepper pieces and sliced olives create a nice visual contrast against the chilled pasta.

As Capua and I talked, I couldn't help but take bite after bite of the meatless lasagna ($7.99), a compacted, hearty stack of noodles and tomato sauce.

Meatless? It sounds crazy, but don't worry, the servings are enough to crowd your stomach.

There's also layered Italian meatloaf ($7.99), chicken vermicelli ($7.99), salmon ($5.99) and the stacked-tortilla King Ranch chicken ($7.99). Capua's got you covered.

"This whole thing started about food, but now it's about food and people," she tells me.

That's an understatement. Nearly her entire staff is from Samaritan House, a nonprofit, community-based health and human services agency that provides more than 120,000 meals a year to low-income families. This year, Z's Cafe has partnered with Cuisine for Healing, a nonprofit group that helps cancer patients meet their nutritional needs.

Capua's door-to-door personal project is growing into something more. And all because of some chicken salad.

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