Olive & Thyme Cafe dishes up a long list of Lebanese favorites
The number of categories on the menu for Olive & Thyme Cafe stretches into double digits. Staring at that long document, I realized it would take months to eat my way through it. After sampling several of Olive & Thyme’s dishes, I’d gladly accept that challenge.
Serving in Clintonville since November, Olive & Thyme occupies a big and bright space that still resembles the Panera Bread it previously housed. On the newcomer’s website, its food is described as “modern and traditional Lebanese-Mediterranean cuisine.” On a plate, the food evokes this description: If you like the fare prepared at Lavash Cafe (which is a couple miles due south on High Street), you’ll like the food prepared at Olive & Thyme.
There’s a reason for this: Olive’s chef-owner Rami Sabra is the former chef at Lavash, and Sabra’s core recipes haven’t changed dramatically. Consequently, items such as Olive’s house-made, sturdy, pita-style bread and its flavorful shawarmas and kebabs will please longtime Lavash fans (like me) sure to recognize fresh and healthful-leaning food cut from the same tasty cloth.
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Olive offers excellent values, as well. In fact, the “Small” Family Platter — an immense and wonderful de facto buffet that could feed twice as many as the two to three diners it’s purportedly designed for — is one of the better values around.
The $45 deal includes generous portions of (a la carte prices are given): smooth and sumptuous, lemon-brightened Hummus ($4); tangy, gently smoky and uncommonly rich Baba-Ghannouj ($4); juicy chargrilled Chicken Kebabs ($9) with real cookout flavor; oversized, sausage-like, crowd-pleasing Chicken Kafta ($9) and Beef + Lamb Kafta Kebabs ($9); boatloads of fragrant Beef Shawarma ($9) and tangy Chicken Shawarma ($9); plus a Fattoush Salad ($9) made with impressive ingredients that, unfortunately in my case, hadn’t been properly drained.
The phenomenal spread includes accompaniments that make the feast even more fun to eat: a week’s supply of house bread ($4) and good Saffron Rice ($3.50); killer, salsa-like house hot sauce ($2.50); fluffy garlic sauce ($2.50); concentrated Tahini Sauce ($2.50); and house-pickled turnips ($2.50) with a horseradish-like kick.
While likewise delicious and far from small, the Olive & Thyme Veggie Platter ($14) — which could be dinner for one hungry customer or a terrific shared appetizer — is less extravagant. Conjuring a Mediterranean answer to the Japanese bento, it’s Olive’s excellent hummus plus (a la carte prices are provided) a lemony, parsley-forward and refreshing Tabbouleh Salad ($9); first-rate Falafel ($4); and outstanding Fried Cauliflower ($9) whose natural and nutty sweetness was enlivened by lemon.
Olive’s shawarma and kafta kebab sandwiches ($8 each) will taste deliciously familiar to Lavash patrons, whether bound in pita or a toasted and thinner “wheat wrap.” But the highly recommended House Burger ($12) will taste deliciously distinct. It features a juicily chargrilled patty with zesty seasoning on a toasted sesame seed roll with lettuce, tomato and a ketchup-and-mayo-tasting sauce. The burger comes with good partners: fine steak fries and a mayo-based but lively coleslaw.
I also loved the tomatoey, veggie stew-like Lebanese Moussaka ($14, with righteous vermicelli rice plus a nice salad). If you’re only peckish, the peppery Lentil Soup ($3.50) was a perky-yet-soothing winter warmer, and it’s hard to beat Olive’s inexpensive house-made Fatayer — savory little pastry parcels — with cheese ($1), spinach ($1) or “meat” (tomatoey, crushed-meatball-like; $1.50).
Don’t sleep on desserts such as: the chewy, sweet and irresistible Chocolate Chip Cookie ($2); the $1 Farmor’s (Swedish almond-style) Cookie; and the lovely, light and inhalable Mocha Cake ($4 per slice).
But Olive also offers Lebanese sausages (Mekanek, $14), a tomato-and-green-beans dish (Loubia, $9), fried red snapper ($20) and, well, I could probably go on for months.
Olive & Thyme
4519 N. High St., Clintonville