Meatless Monday: Couscous at The Olive Tree

Anthony Dominic, Crave

I was sold on The Olive Tree the moment manager David Mor greeted my partner and I with firm handshakes.

"Car dealerships have customers," he said slowly through a perpetual grin. "We have guests."

Mor would make many welcome visits to our table during a late-night dinner at this Hilliard hot spot. He works a dining room perhaps unlike anyone I've met since moving to Columbus. Olive Tree's veggie-friendly fare is great, but it's Mor's knack for hospitality-which clearly rubs off on the staff-that makes this cozy Mediterranean eatery worth the drive.

Mor is from Israel, but Olive Tree's menu borrows from several Mediterranean and Middle Eastern traditions. I started with an order of Spanakopita ($5). This traditional Greek pastry is made with thin, unleavened dough, layered with spinach and blended asiago, parmesan and feta cheeses and baked until gold and flaky. For my entree, my server (also vegetarian) talked me into the two-serving Vegetable Couscous ($14.50). The stew-like dish originates with the Berbers of North Africa, Mor explained, but is also common in Israeli cuisine. Olive Tree's rendition consists of lightly cooked carrot, squash, potato, cabbage, celery and chickpeas served over a bed of steamed semolina (coarse, powdery wheat middlings). The dish isn't as spice-forward as other entrees, leaving the veggies (pumpkin, particularly) to really shine. Carrots, potatoes and squash can be particularly stiff, stubborn veggies; here, they're cooked just right (softened, but not mushy) so that your fork can slice right through them.

Olive Tree also offers takeout, Sunday brunch and a full bar with imported Eastern beer and wine. If you make it in, grab a huge nut-and-honey-filled baklava ($3) for the road, too.