Tucked away on the ground floor of a diminutive office building on Route 113, the Olive Tree is, apparently, a restaurant that has been hiding in plain sight for years – eleven, to be precise. In fact, we probably never would have discovered it had we not been visiting a lighting store in the area.
The outside may appear a bit on the pedestrian side, but the interior is contemporary and sparklingly clean, boasting comfy booths and large wall murals. There is even a small patio for al fresco dining in warmer weather. Bare tables are simply adorned with paper napkins by day, maroon cloth napkins at the dinner service.
And the homey Greek/Mediterranean cuisine is the perfect complement to the casual ambiance. It is of excellent quality, reasonably priced, and prodigiously proportioned (especially at dinner, doggie bags are much in evidence). A great spot for either relaxing noonday or evening excursion.
If you pop in for lunch, be sure to have a go at some of the so-called Greek “street food.” Souvlaki, for example, refers to meats or fish that are grilled on a skewer and then generally wrapped in pita bread along with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and various seasonings. Recently sampled was the restaurant’s lamb rendition. The marinated pieces of meat were quite tender and adorned with a first-rate tzatziki sauce (a sauce made with drained plain Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, minced garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and minced fresh mint or dill).
A variation on the theme was a fabulous chicken souvlaki, moist grilled poultry strips embellished with a provocatively addictive blue cheese-artichoke dressing. Souvlakia (plural) generally come accompanied by a small Greek salad. But, for an additional few dollars, I would suggest the feta fries, served up with a sprinkling of oregano and crumbled feta cheese.
Other luncheon possibilities include two Greek classic dishes: spanakopita and moussaka (both also available as dinner entrées). The former is a phyllo dough pie filled with sautéed spinach & onions mixed with feta cheese, eggs, and a variety of seasonings. The latter is a casserole of grilled sliced eggplant and seasoned ground beef & potatoes topped with a rich, creamy béchamel sauce (a white sauce made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux). Both are excellent.
The nod for my luncheon favorite, however, would undoubtedly go to mama’s makaroni: a provocative combo of warm penne pasta, slices of sautéed zucchini, sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese, and splash of white wine. This is one of those dishes that sounds run-of-the-mill but ends up wowing you with its sublime simplicity. The al dente pasta offers just the right amount of “bite,” the zucchini adds a nice textural touch & infusion of color, and the melted feta cheese provides an unexpected depth of richness.
If you decide on a dinner excursion, you will find that the appetizers round up the usual suspects: stuffed grape leaves; Greek-style meatballs, flavored with herbs & spices, baked, flash fried, and doused with lemon; char-grilled calamari; the aforementioned spanakopita and its cousin, tiropita, a four-cheese pie wrapped in phyllo; and Zorba’s clams served up in white wine, butter, garlic, herbs, and dash of ouzo. There is also an appetizer sampler and an Olive Tree “mixed grill,” both of which are designed to serve 4 diners… All worthy of consideration.
My advice, however, is to take the route less traveled… If you happen to be dining à deux, you absolutely can’t miss by sharing one of the Greek salads. What we have is a variety of lettuces, red tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, kalamata olives, crumbled feta, etc., spruced up with a number of interesting enhancements. The “Aegean” version, for instance, adjoins char-grilled salmon; the “tycoon Alexandros,” marinated lamb; the “Greek fisherman,” shrimp & scallops; the “King Neptune,” char-grilled calamari; and the “Greek tycoon,” char-grilled pork, marinated chicken breast, or sliced gyro meat.
Recently sampled was the latter, adorned with strips of beautifully grilled marinated chicken breast. Incredibly enticing. Truth be told, however, the key to a superlative Greek salad, of whatever incarnation, is the dressing: the correct proportions of olive oil & vinegar, and the infusion of just the proper combination of fresh herbs… And the Olive Tree’s version is one of the best.
When it comes to dinner entrées, as you would surmise in a Greek/Mediterranean establishment, seafood plays a prominent role. With regard to finny fare, options include: horseradish encrusted salmon; grilled tuna steak topped with sun-dried tomato & Roquefort compound butter; flounder stuffed with spinach, pine nuts, and pancetta; and char-grilled freshly caught whole fish brushed with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs.
On the other hand, if you’re a shrimp lover, this is definitely the place to indulge. Should you prefer your crustaceans with a minimum of fuss, for example, the jumbo shrimp & scallop kebab will clearly be to your liking. The skewer is brushed with extra virgin olive oil and then char-grilled. The soul of simplicity. Prefer a bit more pizzazz…? The Santorini version is just the thing. Jumbo shrimp are sautéed, placed on a pillow of rice pilaf, then smothered in a rich fresh tomato & red wine sauce and sprinkled with crumbled feta.
Among the homemade house specialties, the aforementioned moussaka is always a worthy contender… But you may also wish to give the pastitsio a try. This is a casserole that combines tubular pasta and seasoned ground beef flavored with tomato sauce. It also incorporates two types of white sauce: a thin sauce that binds the pasta; and a thick béchamel that is spooned over the top. This is hearty Greek comfort food taken to the max. The portion size is monstrous; and it is rich, rich, rich. The béchamel topping is an absolutely showstopper… but, unless you happen to possess an ironclad constitution – and palate – this dish can only be consumed in small doses. If you order a dinner helping, trust me, you’ll be dining on the leftovers for several days to come.
To conclude your time at table – if you still have room – stick with the three house-made desserts. The ubiquitous baklava and rice pudding are both fine. But the favorite, according to our server (and she was absolutely right!), is the galatoboureko. Layers of delicate phyllo are filled with a creamy custard and topped with a light honey/sugar syrup. Definitely on the sweet side, but the perfect ending when combined with a strong cup of freshly brewed coffee.
If you enjoy Greek/Mediterranean food served up in generous portions at more than reasonable prices, the Olive Tree Mediterranean Grill is definitely worth a visit.
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