“Here in America, we have hash browns, toast and eggs ... there’s a whole lot more to breakfast than that,” David Mor observed while hovering above my table in his terrific Hilliard restaurant called Olive Tree.
Mor’s perturbed “What’s up with that?” expression made me giggle; his sage words made me (somewhat idiotically) gush out “I heard that!”
More pertinently, Mor’s convention-shattering, damn cheap and uncommonly delicious breakfasts made me want to follow him around his eatery (the affable and informative Mor clearly enjoys working a room) while persistently patting him on the back, shooting him high fives and enthusiastically shaking his hand while telling him how much I like his food.
An Israeli-American and former academic, Mor frequently travels to the Middle East (at least in part) to search for unusual and great new dining ideas. Olive Tree fans (and they come in from all over) are the beneficiaries of this culinary anthropology.
Olive Tree’s unique breakfasts (served only on Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) highlight popular Jewish culture’s takes on foods from Yemen, Iraq and North Africa that are guaranteed to excite intrepid eaters like me nonplussed by the morning-time routine of grease, salt and blandness. But Olive Tree’s spiffy, stylishly inviting yet thoroughly casual environs will lure in and reassure less adventurous diners, too.
And one bite of the fun-to-say and outrageously delicious Shakshuka ($6) will convince everybody that Olive Tree’s breakfasts are among the best and best-priced non-cliche morning bites around. Served with puffy warm pita wedges and in a nifty little cast-iron skillet, Shakshuka is a sort of vibrant tomato sauce/stew in which eggs are poached. Popping with bright, rich and acidic tomato flavors balanced by sweet cooked bell peppers and aroused by garlic, this dish is addictive.
Tip: It’s even better with a side of spicy, Moroccan-style merguez sausages ($3) and when prepared (as a special) with a moat of creamy hummus and rechristened as Humshuka.
Sabich ($6) not only sounds like what you might hear if, in huge mid-chew, I attempted to tell you I was eating a great breakfast sandwich — it actually is one. Two toasty pita pockets come packed with hard-cooked egg, hefty roasted spuds, sweet grilled eggplant and a lively, lemony, fresh and refreshing Israeli salad (diced cucumbers, tomato, onion and parsley). To eat this is to love it.
Here’s some other terrific dishes recommended for bold brunchers weary of banal breakfasts.
• Cheese Bureka ($3.50) A lovely, soft, flaky, warm and buttery, tiropita-like pastry triangle sprinkled with sesame seeds and jammed with a comforting blend of melty feta, provolone and mozzarella cheeses
• Hummus Ful Breakfast ($8.50) This killer eye-opening combo unites wonderful, warm, garlicky and soupy fava beans (flaunting a neat jalapeno bite and cooling cilantro) with Olive Tree’s excellent hummus plus — ratcheting up the richness but grounding the dish in “breakfast” — hard-cooked eggs. Served with a basket of scooping-up warm pita, this dish is another favorite.
• Challah French Toast ($5.50) Beautiful slices of big, thick, puffy and eggy French toast were raised to extra-special status by their sexy orangey essence, hint of cinnamon, fresh berries and maple syrup.
• Jachnun ($8) Big, curvy knobs of slightly sweet, dark, multi-layered thick pastry “baked all night long” are there to scoop up eggs (also baked all night) and to be dipped into a bright and fragrant shaved tomato melange topped with a mean, green hot sauce called s’chug. Kinda crazy but really fun.