Annie Zoll’s Lessons from Mom

Two generations of restaurant insiders share their dining tips.

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As the daughter of Clark and Cheryl Zoll, owners of restaurant-equipment supplier Zesco, Annie Zoll grew up feasting on fare from her family’s clients just as often as she ate her mother’s home cooking. Whether it was shrimp cocktail from St. Elmo Steak House, lasagna from Iaria’s Italian Restaurant, or tostadas from Acapulco Joe’s, Annie cultivated an adventurous appetite from the time she was 6 years old. But she inherited a lot more than a refined palate from her foodie parents. In honor of Mother’s Day, the 35-year-old Zesco project manager imparts what she’s learned from the woman she calls the biggest champion of the local dining scene: her mom.

Eat local.

Annie: You would never catch us eating at a corporate chain. I never knew of, like, Pizza Hut. We’ve watched the whole scene evolve. We were at St. Elmo in the ’80s, as well as Hollyhock Hill, Acapulco Joe’s, Snax, and Peter’s. Now some of our favorites are Cafe Patachou, Late Harvest Kitchen, The Local Eatery & Pub, Black Market, Pizzology, and Restaurant Tallent in Bloomington.

Keep it sweet.

Cheryl: I was room mom for her class every year, and I always bought goodies because baking was just too much for me. But then when Cheryl’s Cookies opened, I just told everyone they were “Cheryl’s cookies,” so no one ever figured out that I didn’t make them.

The more the merrier.

Annie: My house was always a place where you were loved and accepted, especially for some of my friends who didn’t have that at home.

Cheryl: I always planned on having at least 11 people [to dinner] because I never knew how many were going to show up.

Good manners trump good eats.

Cheryl: I’ve found that the food doesn’t have to be fantastic if the hospitality is great.

Annie: Like at home, it didn’t matter if there were just grapes on the table; it was more about the environment we were in.

Eat your green vegetables.

Annie: My mom taught me to make an amazing salad. You can never chop enough. And with ingredients, less is more—we keep it to chickpeas, salami, mozzarella, balsamic, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

Cheryl: I invented the chop salad.

Buy high-quality junk food. 

Cheryl: You and your sister always knew where to go when you wanted junk food.

Annie: We went to the neighbors if we wanted a Tab, a Pop-Tart, or a Ding Dong.

Cheryl: Not that I didn’t buy the good stuff, like three-layer brownies from Illinois Street Food Emporium.

Go back for seconds.

Annie: We’re not really critical people when we eat out, but we could be. I’m not going to focus on something they did wrong. I’m going to focus on everything they did right.

Cheryl: Everyone deserves a second chance. And we’re just lucky in Indiana that we have the opportunity now to try all of these different independent restaurants.

Develop your tastes.

Annie: I have a cultured palate, and it’s gotten a little more refined over the years. My family has always been sort of the underdog. We are Jewish and small-business owners, so we’ve never been afraid to try food from different cultures targeted to different communities. I’ve learned that a good palate isn’t an elitist, entitled one; it’s a cultured, humble one that’s open to trying new things.

 

This article appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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