Back in the dark ages when I was a kiddo, neighborhood restaurants consisted of stereotypical suburban diners where you could get a ham or pork chop dinner accompanied by an iceberg lettuce salad, mashed potatoes and green beans. If you lived in a really worldly neighborhood, you might also have the choice of a little Italian place or even a pizzeria. We’d never even heard of hummus, samosas, pita or falafel.
Yay for the 21st century! Dishes at our little neighborhood spots now range from sushi, Ethiopian enjira and Persian crispy rice to Cuban empanadas. The heady flavors of the globe are available at shops at the end of the block.
That said, wouldn’t you know I work at an office situated squarely in the middle of a culinary wasteland. Within reasonable, lunch-hour driving distance are a BBQ joint that the health department should have closed down ages ago, a Thai place that is fairly good on its best days and a handful of other similarly successful eateries.
This is a sad state of affairs for my foodie colleagues and me. A sad, sad state. This dining challenge drove my colleague R. to passionately draft a Venn diagram on my whiteboard one dreary day. There are the nearby eateries, the good eateries, and those precious, rare eateries that are both nearby and good.
One of the few restaurants that landed in the sweet spot was Olive Café at 9530 James A. Reed Road in Kansas City, Missouri.
Olive isn’t the sort of place you go to for the atmosphere; you go there for crazy-flavorful Mediterranean fare and to support your friendly neighborhood restaurateur. When it comes to my favorite restaurants, I’m a habit eater—I tend to eat the same things every visit because they make me deliriously happy, and I’m lonely for them if I have something other than my usual. At Olive, I’ve always ordered either the veggie combo (hummus, baba ghanoush, veggie dolmas and falafel) or the kofta kabob dinner (served with saffron rice and a colorful salad). Many of my colleagues are addicted to the falafel sandwich and rave about the crunchy pickles in the sandwich—a touch of genius, some say. One of my favorite quirks about Olive are the plastic squirt bottles marked BBQ Sauce on every table that are actually filled with sambal oelek. Serve yourself, all-you-can-eat sambal? Oh yeah.
Olive has recently started offering a lunchtime buffet, and the proprietors say if it’s popular they’ll offer it often. I filled my plate with mounds of hummus, tomato and jalapeno salad, falafel and beef kabob and dove in. I was momentarily fearful that the vast quantities of food on the buffet might mean compromised quality, but with the first bite I found the flavors to be almost better than ever.
If you overeat at Olive, don’t rush back to the cube farm only to fall into a food coma. Instead, walk off your food by wandering the aisles of Olive’s grocery store. There’s nothing like having a jar of sambal, some saffron, and other exotic goodies tucked into your bag with your leftovers. Once you are back at the office, though, you’ll be quick to add Olive Café to the sweet spot on your workday-lunch-challenge Venn diagram.
© Sherry Burns and sushipoet.wordpress.com, 2012.