[Sidebar] August 20 - 27, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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Gourmet burgers in a New York-style club

by Dawn Keable

108 North Main St., Providence, 751-1200
Mon-Sat, 11 a.m.-midnight
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Leave it to an art teacher to grasp the red accents in Olives's decor. "Pimentos, perhaps?" said my friend, Andrea, when I admitted that I was not seeing an obvious link to the rest of the olive color scheme here. Luckily, the overall atmosphere of the restaurant will not be lost on the more literal types -- i.e., me. Gone are all traces of the poodle skirts of its prior occupant, Sh-Booms. (Whew!) Now the interior has the revived, fresh feel of a New York-style club.

Beyond the olive theme: olive-colored booths; green-and-white, slip-covered chairs; a green stained floor; waitstaff outfitted in olive drabs; a rich wood detailing. Thickly matted pictures line the walls, while, as an added bonus, the front opens directly onto the street.

Olives boasts two bars, so it only seemed fitting to start our night off with a drink. I went with a frozen mudslide ($4.75). It was creamy and frothy, beyond delicious. Andrea (not to be confused with my fiancé, Andre, although they do occasionally answer to the same name) started with a refreshing iced tea ($1). But after watching me so relish my drink for several minutes, she switched to a white Russian ($3.50). Enter the contented smiles.

While we were waiting for our appetizer to arrive, we munched on a complimentary bowl of grilled vegetables. (Actually, I munched -- Andrea watched.) The assortment of sliced carrots, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, and onions had a nice, woodsy flavor. And how clever of a gourmet hamburger restaurant to give us vegetables -- and the false security that we'd be eating healthily for the rest of the evening!

Indeed, the calorie counter went out the window with our appetizer -- "Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings" ($6.95). Served with a light coconut-cream dipping sauce, the wings were tender, tasty, and not overly spicy. With the high-backed booths offering protection and no dates to impress, Andrea and I quickly progressed from daintily cutting off small pieces of the chicken to getting down and dirty with the finger food. By the time we got to the main course, we both needed extra napkins.

Andrea, impressed that the vegetarian choices went far beyond the traditional garden burger, originally ordered the "Perry Como" burger. But somewhere between our table and the kitchen, our waiter apparently decided that the "Johnny Mercer" ($6.95) was more her speed. And you know what? He was right.

Cooked perfectly, the portobello burger (Portobello? Perry Como?) featured large mushroom caps lightly seasoned and dipped in herbed bread crumbs on focaccia bread buttered with a basil-mustard sauce. The vegetarian burger was served with traditional fries and an unusual, cold toasted-peanut-and-sweet-corn salad. Tossed with red onions and cilantro, the side was creatively flavorful.

I selected the "Glenn Miller: Mediterranean Burger" ($7.95). Mixed with minced onions, garlic, bread crumbs, and romano cheese, the juicy beef patty was amazingly thick. And sandwiched between the two slices of mile-high focaccia bread was also a slice of tomato smothered in melted provolone cheese. My accompaniments included a delicious homemade potato salad with chopped pieces of egg and celery, along with a warm black-olive-and-tomato salad.

Next course: dessert. Andrea picked a slice of caramel apple pie ($4.95). Mixed in a creamy custard, the chunks of apples were baked in a dense shortbread cookie crust and topped with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel. All in all good, but Andrea thought a few more spices would've enhanced the natural flavors.

I chose the chocolate bread pudding ($4.95). Not your traditional bread pudding, this was for chocoholics. The dark chocolate custard was extremely rich, and with a single serving that easily could have served two, moderation was definitely key to a happy belly.

So came the close to our evening of good conversation at a much-needed trendy addition to the Providence restaurant scene. And thanks to Andrea, I will never look at an olive the same way again.

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