For Zahra Tangorra, lasagna is an event. She was sure of this fact even as a kid, when she’d watch her grandfather make a big tray of the stuff for her family on Long Island. The layering itself, Zahra says, acts as ritual - one that’s procedural, anticipated, and rhythmic. She’s hoping her new pop-up at Shelsky’s Of Brooklyn, called Za Za Lazagna, can become a new ritual for New Yorkers to get excited about during a dark, cold pandemic winter. “I’m just trying to target that comfort food zone for folks, so that they can have fun,” says Zahra.
When Zahra was the chef and owner of Brucie in Cobble Hill, an Italian-American restaurant that closed in 2016, the restaurant had its own lasagna program where diners could bring their own pans to Brucie, and the staff would make a lasagna directly into the dish for customers to take home. “The way I feel about food in general is that the more fun it is, the more of an event it is, the better it is...Lasagna! It just feels like one of those things that people can look forward to.”
After Brucie shut down, Zahra focused on private catering and consulting for a few years. Then the pandemic hit, and she did what nearly every other New Yorker did: reoriented. “It was the five-year anniversary of Brucie closing and I wanted to reconnect with the community.” She saw the success of her friends Jess and Trina Quinn’s pop-up, Dacha (which is running a series at Ursula later this month) and connected with Peter Shelsky at Shelsky’s Of Brooklyn about starting a new project. Zahra was set on launching Za Za in the same Cobble Hill neighborhood Brucie once served.
The name Za Za comes from Zahra’s nickname as a baby, which her parents also used for their former catering company, Za Za’s Hot Hors D’oeuvres. “During quarantine I was rummaging around my mom’s garage and I found the old logo for Za Za that they used.” This was around the time she was starting to conceptualize the pop-up. “I unearthed this sign. I was like, ‘it’s a sign, literally.’’’
Za Za’s menu always includes a couple of different kinds of lasagna, which are available by the gargantuan slice for around $15 or a full tray for around $35. “We’re trying to do dishes that really translate to a takeout, cook-at-home thing.” That means seasonal ingredients, big portions, and a rotating menu of other comfort foods like garlic bread, eggplant parm, carrot cake, and chocolate chip cookies. Za Za’s offerings are designed for joy.
So far, it’s working. “People give me feedback like, ‘Hey this means something to me, because I’m feeling depressed lately and this makes me happy.’” Both in kitchens and out of them, Zahra has spent a lot of time thinking about the intersection of grief and food. She even co-hosts a podcast with her mom (who is a grief counselor and therapist) about it. “We’re seeing grief all around us right now, so I’m trying to think of things we can make that can help people through that process.” AKA a massive slice of lasagna.
Zahra and her small team (made up of friends and former Brucie staffers, Ryan Crossman and Steven Rawlings) are sourcing the best quality ingredients from places in the immediate Brooklyn area, like Paisanos Butcher Shop, Caputo’s Fine Foods, and Caputo’s Bake Shop. They’re also collaborating with Brooklyn Wine Exchange (right across from Shelsky’s) to pair sub-$30 bottles with each of Za Za’s weekly menus. Diners can cross the street with their Za Za pick-up order, and get a 5% discount on the curated bottle of the week.
Check out Za Za’s weekly changing menu here, and preorder between Saturday and Tuesday for Friday pick-up slots from 5:30-7pm. In Zahra’s words, “It’s winter, it’s a fucked up time in life. This is about just having a real treat.”