Certain convenience foods carry negative associations from my youth. I can't look at most toaster-oven snacks since my college days, when my buddy Joe subsisted on "pizzas" crafted from English muffins, Prego, and Velveeta. Unfortunately, that lazy undergraduate cooking was all I could think of when I heard about Zaps, a 10-seat counter-service Allston storefront specializing in zapiekanki, a popular street-food snack from the young owners' native Poland. The classic zapiekanka is one lateral half of a 16-inch baguette topped with cheddar cheese and sliced button mushrooms, run through a conveyor-belt oven. As at a pizza joint, you may add further optional toppings (50 cents each) or choose from several set combinations. In Poland, adding a squiggle of ketchup is common, though condiment options here also include a thin garlic sauce, BBQ sauce, yellow mustard, and Tabasco.
You may understand why I found the concept unpromising. (Ketchup? Bleh.) But it turns out that Zaps' zaps are actually pretty tasty, if inarguably humble. Starting with a quality crusty baguette was a smart move: the owners scoured 40 local bakeries before finding one they liked. A trip through that custom oven yields a nicely toasted crust and steaming, chewy interior. The Traditional ($3.99), with just cheddar and mushrooms, is very fine, though dry enough to benefit from some garlic sauce. The Polish ($5.99), with diced onions and good smoky kielbasa slices, is better; a few dots of mustard don't hurt. The Caprese ($4.99), with mozzarella, tomato, and bottled pesto, despite decent cheeses, unhappily evokes freezer-case pizza. Better to stick to less-familiar options like the Farmer ($4.99), with ham, corn, and chives; the Hawaiian ($4.99), with ham and pineapple; or the Greek ($4.99), with feta, black olives, and red onion. Folks craving more animal fat might opt for the Meat Lover's ($5.99), with ham, bacon, pepperoni, and onion.
Beverages ($1.50–$2.39) are limited to the usual bottled water and HFCS-heavy American soft drinks. Bags of Frito-Lay chips (50 cents) can be bundled with a Traditional zap and a canned soda for $5.99. Given how fresh, cheap, and satisfying a zap can be, it's not hard to see how it appeals to students, nostalgic Polish ex-pats, and folks looking for a way to soak up an evening's worth of drinking. Zaps shows how the earnest efforts of entrepreneurial immigrants to recreate a beloved traditional food, however simple, can yield surprisingly good results. My boy Joe should have eaten so well.
Zaps, located at 141 Brighton Avenue, in Allston, is open daily, 11:30 am–10 pm. Call 617.254.9277.