It's blasphemous to say, but I am a Jew who doesn't really care for Jewish delis. I'm never going to finish that 3 lb pastrami sandwich, I've never cared for latkes, and I like eating matzah ball soup about once a year. When I'm looking for some food that speaks to my Jewish soul, I go to Olio, sister restaurant to the upscale Elaia. Olio's menu has recently been revamped, but remains similar to what it's always been. Dishes are separated into Pantry, Antipasti, Eggplant, Bruschette, Sandwiches, Salads, Pizza, and Plates (available after 5pm). I think of it as tapas restaurant, ordering a number of dishes for the table to share. Olio also has a nice selection of wines, beers, and liquors. As spring and summer approach, my mood has become increasingly beach-focus, so I went with the Jungle Bird. It's a mix of dark rum, Campari, lime, and pineapple. It went down fast and easy.
Picking from the 36 menu items proved to be more difficult than expected. How many dips do we get? How many salads? Do you want a pizza? Should we just go upstairs and get the full tasting menu at Elaia? As we debated, we decided that the "Deluxe" Hummus was a good first choice. Their creamy hummus is mixed with pine nuts, almonds, smoked paprika - then topped with braised lamb neck.
I wish I had the vision to put braised meat into my hummus in college. Things would have been so different.
My favorite thing at Olio has always been their Baba Ghanoush. Charred eggplant is mashed and mixed with Lebanese tahini, wheatberries, kefir, and chives. There are so many layers of subtle flavors with this thing, I don't even know where to begin. It's somewhere between nutty and smokey, but the word I'd use to describe it and so many other of Olio's dishes is just "fresh".
I would never have thought to order their "Famous" Egg Salad myself, as egg salad has always been one of those dishes that's borderline disgusting to me, but sometime last year Ben insisted that I try it. The old Jewish man in my soul fell in love. There's something about the combination of the egg, chives, lemon zest (key ingredient) and anchovies that just leave me wanting more. Next time I visit, I may order it to go just so I can have it for breakfast.
Speaking of old man food, the Smoked Whitefish Salad probably also falls into that category. There's a smoked whitefish trifecta of dishes in town now - this salad, Old Standard's fried coquettes, and Publico's tacos - and I love them all. This particular plate is sort of like your deli's smoked salmon/lox/sable plate with toast, onions, capers, and chives, just better.
The Zucchini Carpaccio is what I feel like very healthy Californians eat for breakfast everyday. Thin strips of zucchini are topped with preserved lemons, parmigiano, and every herb that exists. It's light, it's healthy, and it shows that you can create a delicious dish using simple ingredients (well, you probably can't, but a chef can).
By the time the Roasted Beet Salad and Cornish Hen arrived at the table, we were stuffed. We persevered with a few bites of each, but the rest was taken home and eaten for the following day's lunch. The beet salad reminded me a lot of the one from Taste, but the addition of buckwheat and dill gave it a more earthy, nutty flavor.
The cornish hen was probably the most disappointing dish of the evening for me. Its flavors were much more subdued than the rest that we'd had- it didn't taste much different than your typical roasted chicken with roasted vegetables home-cooked meal. Next time I go, I'll skip that and go for a pizza or sandwich instead.
1634 Tower Grove Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110