Menu: Olive Tree Mediterranean Cafe

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Olive Tree in Hilliard is your basic Greek, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean joint that serves Israeli wine and makes one of the most unusual and best moussakas in town.

OK, I was teasing, The Olive Tree's really not so basic after all, but you might make that mistake after a casual gaze at the place and its menu.

The spotlessly clean if unremarkable-looking shop features lots of blonde wood, simple tables and modest, Pier 1-type accents. Its paper menu is loaded with all the hummus, shawarma and kabobs you've seen often before.

It's only when you look closer that you'll notice a few less-familiar offerings with names like machmusa and matbucha. Then when you actually start digging in, you'll pick up on distinctions that make this fine place stand out.

I guarantee that if you order the Olive Tree-O ($8.50), you'll enjoy the three dips you select more than that menu pun. I recommend: Kopanisti - smashed feta cheese with hints of thyme and oregano and a blast of jalapeno; matbucha - a wonderful, fiery cold dip of stewed tomatoes enriched with olive oil and set ablaze with jalapenos; machmusa - a lovely mahogany-colored spread made of deeply roasted eggplant and sweet onions plus tomatoes.

The excellent Chicken Feta Flatbread Pizza ($7.50) featured a crispy, crackery pita-bread crust (whole wheat, if you want it) which used something like machmusa for its sauce. Above that were bits of stewy chicken and lots of mild feta. This combination was an instant classic in my book.

The Chicken Shawarma ($8) was unlike any I've had before -in a good way. Served with the pita on the side, I got a bowl of smooth, mild and tahini-rich hummus topped with onions, peppers, tomatoes and cuminy chicken sauteed together. I'd call that happy result something like Middle Eastern fajitas.

I'd call the Moussaka ($13) huge, luxurious and unsurpassed locally. An enormous bowl contained a loose construction of roasted veggies (potatoes, zucchini and eggplant) and a delicate, cinnamony ground meat mixture mostly submerged in a rich tomato sauce that formed a target pattern with the lush and nutmeggy bechamel.

Less interesting and successful was the dry rice and lentil mix called Mujadara ($8). It would have been better with the traditional caramelized onions and (probably) earlier in the day. And while the herbes de Provence-flecked Lamb Shish Kebab ($14) was perfectly OK -and a mammoth serving - a couple chunks were a tad chewy.

Making up for those so-sos were the best hand-cut, golden brown and ungreasy fries this side of Belgium and a great, way-over-the-top Gyro ($5.50 - get it with the vinegary, and illuminating, house hot sauce).

Also in the plus column was the personal touch of David Mor, the friendly owner from Israel who likes to ask where his customers come from. He says he "gets excited" when they drive in from afar. To enjoy Olive Tree's often surprisingly good food, I recommend you drive in and get David excited.

Olive Tree Mediterranean Cafe

3185 Hilliard-Rome Rd., Hilliard

Phone: 614-527-8812

Price: $$ ($10-$20 per person)

Cuisine: Greek & Mediterranean

Patio: No

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, closed Monday