Zahra Tangorra

Zaza Lasagna
Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
We didn’t realize how much we needed a Lasagna pop-up, until by chance, we laid eyes on chef Zahra Tangorra’s gorgeous, tomato covered carb-filled delights on our Instagram explore page. In the span of 10 minutes we memorized every single item on the pop-up and had dreams of lifting an imaginary fork to meatball to mouth. Our dreams came true when we visited Tangorra at her Cobble Hill apartment earlier this week to break bread and talk about the emotional comfort that her dishes can and are providing, especially to New Yorkers who have suffered loneliness and cabin fever while dealing with the remainder of the pandemic. For all you cheese lovers, pop a Lactaid and put your orders in, Zaza Lazagna have revealed their final menu offering and pick-ups are this Friday at Shelsky’s. For the sake of us all, start following Tangorra’s whereabouts - we've finished our slice lasagna while writing this intro, and are desp for more.
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Full name, age, and where are you from?

Zahra Tangorra. I am 37 years old and I am from Northport, New York, which is in Suffolk County Long Island. Most people talk trash about LI, which is fair, but I actually really love it!

What was growing up like for you and did you have family meals growing up?

Well, in a nutshell, a mid sized nut, like a walnut, my childhood was the quintessential 90's child of divorce/ latchkey/ working parents style upbringing. Both my parents had been chefs when I was very young, and even owned a few extremely heartfelt and creative food businesses before they split. So because they were both amazing cooks, food was important, and we cared about it being delicious, but because of the rockiness of the family situation, there weren't a lot of family meals around the table. There are for sure memories of Italian meals with my dads side of the family, and Jewish delicacies and holidays with my moms, but some of my richest and most important food memories are of being at restaurants. Local red sauce joints and Greek diners, and lots of chain restaurants. Perhaps this sounds like a disappointment, but what I take from it is the value and importance of hospitality. It doesn't have to be fancy to be meaningful, and service industry workers provide comfort and joy in ways they often don't get to see, and aren't given proper credit for. Growing up this way really made me value these folks, and I am proud to be in their company as an adult.

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What meal, or beverage, most reminds you of your childhood? 

Red sauce/ Italian American anything really, but particularly Chicken Francaise, meatballs, spaghetti marinara, bar pies. We would have this kind of thing at home sometimes, but there was a old timey red sauce joint in South Huntington called J&J's that we would go to all the time, and that for me was the essence of childhood eating experiences. 

Tell us a bit about your venture. What is your role and how did you get into this industry?

ZAZA is a little offshoot of my former restaurant, Brucie. Brucie was a very funky and wild little Italian American restaurant on Court Street in Cobble Hill, with a daily changing menu. We made absolutely everything in house, we danced on the tables, we used a lot of salt and olive oil. I feel like that sums it up. I was the chef/ owner, and I closed it in 2016 because we had had a fantastic run, I was exhausted, and I wanted to see what else I could explore professionally. Since closing I have worked as a private caterer and restaurant consultant. I have wanted to bring Brucie back in some way since it closed, and this winter seemed like a perfect time. I reached out to my buddies Lewis and Peter who own Shelsky's of Brooklyn and asked them if they would be kind enough to host us. They are more than kind, they are the most generous and lovely people in this business.

My long time friend and former co-worker Ryan Crossman jumped on board to help me run it. It’s been so much fun to get to work together on this, Ryan is a national treasure. As a team, our goal has been to bring some joy to folks during a cold and difficult winter. This project has been 100% about bringing joy through food to the community. We have an adorable buddy thing with BK Wine Exchange where they pair wine each week for our menu, and our customers can taste it with us, and go over there to purchase at a discount. This has been a brutalizing year for people, mentally, physically, emotionally. Are we going to take all that with ricotta, No, but we can do our part to be friendly and welcoming and make comforting hot food that helps people make the day a little better. That is why we did this pop up.


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How has the pandemic affected you?

The pandemic has further reinforced my awareness of the fragility of life, the realities of grief, and the lack of and need for community. It has felt encouraging to see how some members of our community run into the proverbial burning building. Knowing that there are people out there who have those instincts is incredibly heartening. There can be a lot of new stuff to hold onto when your old life begins to slip away, and I have tried to focus on that, the new material I have been presented with.

What do you think working in this industry during this time has taught you?

This industry in its heart is beautiful. I really believe what I said before about how deeply each and every person who works in service has the ability to make an impact on the strangers who come in and out of the doors of their workplace. I also think that because of Capitalism and the militaristic way in which restaurants have traditionally been run, amongst other evils, the industry has largely become a place that doesn't support the incredible people that make it run. I feel more strongly now than ever that there need to be more provisions and protections for workers. I think $15 minimum wage is 1/3 of what the minimum wage actually needs to be, and we have to find a way to provide healthcare, real liveable wages, retirement plans, and all of the other baseline things that working class people deserve in this country. 

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What's your favorite drink/food item on your menu?

Meatballs!!

Once it is completely safe to eat out again and socialize, where is the first place you're going out to eat at and what are you ordering?

Bamonte's, on a Saturday night. You really have to go there on a Saturday, just trust me on this. will have to go with friends and family, of course. To start, finger-stirred Negronis at the bar. Dinner- Start with cold antipasti, fried calamari, muscles marinara, fried calamari. mains- Rigatoni alla vodka, cheese ravioli, spaghetti & meatballs, chicken parm, shrimp francaise, side of escarole and beans. Amaro for dessert!

Anything exciting coming up for you?

ZAZA will go on summer break, but will definitely return in the fall, worry not kiddos. I think we take the summer to explore our options. A brick and mortar is not gonna happen, but we have some fun ideas swirling around! Summer we will definitely be back in catering mode, so stay tuned if you want some outdoor summer italian bbq ( small) party action at your house!

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