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 branch 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 of 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 as Lavash’s
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 ghanoush ($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); plus 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 was a juicy 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 (makanek, $14), a tomato-and-green-beans dish (loubia, $9), fried red snapper ($20) and, well, I could probably go on for months.
At a glance
Where: Olive & Thyme
Location: 4519 N. High St., Clintonville
Contact: 614-826-3020, www.oliveandthymecafe.com
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Food review: Clintonville’s Olive & Thyme offers a lengthy menu of Lebanese-Mediterranean cuisine
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