Part of the “Ben Poremba dining district”, OLIO has been a favorite of ours since it first opened. For those not in the know, OLIO is half of Elaia and OLIO, two conjoined restaurants right off the corner of Tower Grove and McRee. While Elaia is more of a fine-dining experience, OLIO is meant to be more friendly and casual in its atmosphere, built out of a converted gas station and with music provided by a vinyl record collection in the corner.
Make no mistake in thinking that OLIO’s relaxed and simple appearance means substandard fare. The food and drink are simply wonderful and some of the best in town, specially suited for an evening out with friends and family that love to eat and drink.
The drinks are wide in variety and unique, with much thanks due to John Fausz, the resident mixologist and Bar Manager. John used to serve Christine and I at The Royale back in the day, but now he has moved on and has the freedom to truly show his abilities. If you do not see anything you like on the cocktail, beer, or wine menu, he will make sure that you do not leave unhappy with a unique and well made concoction, like the Boulevardier in the image above which was perfectly mixed. My absolute favorite cocktail I ever had there was called the Liberal, a simple bourbon and vermouth affair with Amer Picon bitters.
The food menu is mostly small plates meant for sharing with some sandwiches and salads. The style is New American, yet with a Mediterranean twist and a dash of Spain and Italy. The cover image above is of their Burrata dish, an Italian cheese. It looks like a poached egg and almost has the soft, supple texture of one as well. For a first time visitor to OLIO it is a perfect example of their simple yet irresistible cuisine. We also highly recommend the Hummus and Charred Eggplant Dip ordered together, which they plate wonderfully with some soft and tasty bread for dipping.
The hummus is some of the most creamy and well flavored we have had in the area. Not being served with pita bread might seem odd, but the soft, flaky-crusted bread they serve along with it is perfect for spooning up big mouthfuls of this wonderful dip.
And if hummus isn’t your thing at least get the charred eggplant dip. It’s not like the baba ghanoush you might have at some of the local Syrian restaurants; it’s way better. I am not personally a fan of kefir, but the version they have in this dish is creamy and perfectly complements the eggplant, which is full of roasty-flavored goodness. A must have for both of us whenever we visit.
The salads are much talked about by visitors to OLIO. While we have not tried it yet ourselves, we have heard great things about the Egg Salad. What we have tried we absolutely delightful, like the Kale Salad. It’s perfectly flavored and textured with just the right amount of anchovy.
But the best salad I’ve had there was the Steak Salad, which was unfortunately just a temporary special. The steak was perfectly cooked and had an amazing texture and taste. The greens were simple but flavorful and had a light dressing that was perfect with the steak. And the best art of all, hidden under the greens were these robust, rosy tomato slices that almost dwarfed the steak in flavor. Simply the best tomato I have ever had. If I had one suggestion for OLIO it would be to put this on the menu permanently, but being that everything is locally sourced I imagine that it would be impossible to maintain the quality due to the seasonality of the ingredients.
Cons for OLIO? Not many. Sometimes it can get a little too cozy in there for comfort, but it is a popular place. Also, it can be hard for newcomers to locate the entrance, which is in the “airlock” going between OLIO and Elaia. They’ve helped remedy this by sending people out to guide confused diners to the entrance.
But do not let any of that dissuade you from visiting OLIO. Please, do yourself a favor and check it out.
- Pros: Amazing small plates and a bar managed by one of St. Louis’ best.
- Cons: Maybe a little too cozy inside, but still enough elbow room.
- Charlie’ Favorites: Steak Salad (special), Charred Eggplant Dip, Egg Salad
- Christine’s Favorites: Hummus, Charred Eggplant Dip, Burrata
UPDATE! I tried the Egg Salad and it is my new favorite! I usually do not like whole anchovies but these were amazing. The egg salad was soft, fluffy, and very flavorful. Give it a try!