Olive Cafe: 9530 James A Reed Rd

 Posted by at 5:30 pm
Nov 072009
 

First of all, I really have to thank phome for bringing this place to my attention in the comments of a previous post. I think it’s fair to say that I would never have discovered it on my own. Olive Cafe is located in Southeast Kansas City, just east of ye olde Bannister Mall, in an area of town that frankly, is not known for its quality food establishments.

Olive Cafe

When you turn into the small strip mall that houses Olive Cafe, you will immediately see a bereft-looking storefront with paper over the windows that advertises itself as Olive Cafe. This is actually the bakery. Keep driving to the back of the shopping center and you will see the actual operating restaurant and grocery.

When you walk in, Olive Cafe seems a tad confusing as it is primarily a small grocery rather than a typical restaurant. It demonstrates coziness and organizational savvy roughly equivalent to your local auto repair shop. On the right of the entrance are a handful of tables across from shelves of foodstuffs and 20 lb. bags of rice and flour.

Olive Cafe

Olive Cafe

Beyond that, in a separate little storefront is a room of formica booths and tables that is well-lit and very “fast food” feeling. But make no mistake, this place is dishing out some of the finest Middle Eastern fare in town. The menu is small but flavors are huge at his place and the food is not an afterthought.

There were two gentlemen working the front counter at my visit and they quickly offered to take my order. The menu itself is small and fairly typical of middle eastern spots: gyros, kofta, shawarma, falafel, chicken kabobs, and even salads. You can make out a few things on this terribly mediocre photo:

Olive Cafe

They have a regular soda fountain and a whole host of imported beverages and juices in cases strewn about the place. There was a man enjoying a small pot of hot tea as well. After ordering, we were instructed to sit down and pay after eating. The food came out in 10 minutes or so. The vegetarian platter was quite a lovely site:

Olive Cafe

The kofta sandwich, not so much:

Olive Cafe

But beneath the surface was a hearty mixture of heavily seasoned lamb, onions, tomatoes and pickles. The sandwich was housed in a fresh, soft pita and dressed with tahini sauce.

Olive Cafe

The falafel here is some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s more coarsely ground and fried harder than you typically see, creating a thick brown crust on each patty. The baba ghanoush is simply fantastic at Olive Cafe. It has a very smoky taste probably due to grilling the eggplant. The hummus is fine, heavier on the tahini than I am used to, but I still enjoyed it. They added some stuffed grape leaves to the veggie platter for a dollar extra. They tasted like stuffed grape leaves always do, that is to say, kind of boring and texturally deficient. In general I think the folks at Olive Cafe know how to season their food quite well. If you have never understood the transcendent appeal of baba ghanoush or falafel, you should head down and try it.

I think Kansas City’s best blogger, Meesha V. would like this place, and I encourage him to try it in his continuing quest to improve Jewish-Islamic relations.

And after your meal, you can walk the aisles looking at all manner of interesting imported grocery items catering to a Mediterranean, middle eastern and south Asian clientèle.

Olive Cafe

Olive Cafe

Olive Cafe

You can also order some freshly cured olives, halal meat or feta cheese from the front counter.

Olive Cafe

Olive Cafe

As this is a Muslim owned and operated establishment, you should know that they close up shop on Fridays between about noon and 1pm for prayer. There was a sign on the door but I have forgotten the exact closure period. Regardless anyone down in this part of town would do well to shoot out Bannister Road if they get a hankering for Middle Eastern food and try out Olive Cafe.

Olive Cafe on Urbanspoon

Aug 152008
 

A few months ago, I posted about the International Grocery at 80th and Metcalf. In the comments readers Goofy Girl, meesha v. and a blogless gentleman named Leonard mentioned a place nearby called Mediterranean Market. A Twitter shout-out from Bull E. Vard yesterday reminded me, so I was off to check it out.

This is a small, clean market and deli on the East side of Metcalf just north of 75th street. It’s the more spacious and inviting version of International Grocery, for it features at least five tables inside, a well organized series of shelves with various Middle Eastern foodstuffs, and a deli counter with a few meats and cheeses.

The set-up is a little confusing. I ordered my food at the register, but I think I was supposed to go down to the deli counter to place the order. I ordered a chicken shish kebab only to discover that they were out of chicken. Oh well, I went with beef. The guy at the register was possibly the owner, and he was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered in food service. He kept saying “thank you, I hope you like it!”

The menu is small and rather typical: falafel, gyros, kefta, shish kebab, baba ghanoush, hummus, tabouleh, etc. Sure there is a lot to try here but I’m only one man on one day.

After a 10 or 15 minute wait, the sandwich arrived much as you would expect, wrapped in a pita with lettuce, tomato, onion and, well, no sauce. It was a good enough sandwich w/o any sauce because the meat was marinated and fairly well seasoned. The meat was cut into large cubes and then grilled. The cut of beef was a little tough, possibly a sirloin so I wish it was chopped smaller or cooked more rare.

The sandwich came with a generous spoonful of rice. I was really excited because it looked just like the rice pilaf I had at International Grocery which was so good. Alas, the it was simply not up to snuff. It was so salty that I couldn’t finish it (that’s sayin’ somthing) and had been tossed with melted butter. Butter is not bad in and of itself, and can even be nice with rice, but this was far too rich for my taste. I really didn;t want to eat any of it, but unlike that candy-ass Gordon Ramsey I never spit anything out just cuz it ain’t no good.

The plate also had a couple small dill pickle spears and a handful of very good Greek olives, half of which were pitted.

I heard some guys talking about how good the baklava was so I ordered some to take with me. I broke open the container later, veritably thrilled to indulge myself in this delicacy of which I am so fond. As accompaniment, I even splurged on what the machine in the staff room loosely calls a “cafe mocha.” Unfortunately, the substance that they loosely call “hot chocolate-making syrup” had run out and I wound up with a gross, watery coffee.

And a baklava that I did not care for. First, not crunchy. I will give them a break here because I did leave it in a plastic container for a good two hours. The relative heat and humidity probably took its toll. Secondly, it was not even a little sweet. At first, this intrigued me, but the gloppy pistachio filling simply didn’t have any flavor of honey, which is the best thing about baklava. Lastly, it smelled weird, kind of like fried food. I suspect that they brushed it with oil, margarine or some piss-poor approximation of butter.

The best part of my meal was a beverage I had seen but never tried: Vimto. It’s basically a kind of red pop, but a little herbier. M.Toast thinks it tastes like cough syrup and I’ll admit that there is some truth to that. But it didn’t bother me, Vimto lives in that liminal space between medicine and candy much like Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops. I spent my lunch hour thinking about what kind of liquor it would be good with. What did I come up with? Vimto & beer. I’m gonna try it, just you wait.

The real attraction here I’m sure is the selection of imported foods. In addition to canned and boxed goods, they have several kinds of feta cheese for sale by the pound, a whole aisle of cookies and sweets and a nice selection of olive and grapeseed oils.

This was a disappointing visit I’m afraid, but I still like the place. They don’t use bad ingredients or cut corners. I’ve heard very good things about this place, so I suspect that they suffer from inconsistency rather than incompetence. It’s certainly worth a repeat visit to see if they are going on the regular lunch rotation.

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Mediterranean Market on Urbanspoon

Jun 172008
 

This is the same outfit as the Jerusalem Cafe in the heart of Westport and a newer place on 39th Street, but is located down the road apiece toward State Line Road.Jerusalem Bakery is like the Cafe’s older, cooler sister. Maybe a little uglier and less friendly, but the payoff is more satisfying. Rather than a typical restaurant, this place combines a very nice Mediterranean buffet with a retail operation, selling fresh baked goods, foodstuffs by the pound and grocery items. It’s a great place to pick up a pint of hummus or some olives for sure, but the buffet is what keeps me coming back.

This is one of the few buffets that just looks good at first glance. Believe me it’s difficult to make vats of meat, rice, sauces and casseroles look even remotely appetizing. The steamtable is not a vessel conducive to fine presentation. But they do a good job here. Options typically include gyro meat, bone-in chicken, falafel, rice, hummus, baba ghanoush, pita bread, tabouleh, moussaka, as well as some other things that either rotate, or I’m forgetting.

The moussaka is excellent, there’s just no getting around that. I also had something that I think was called “Jerusalem Meatloaf” which was very delicious. It was basically a meat roll with a texture very similar to good Italian meatballs. Light, lots of breadcrumbs and seasonings, probably includes veal or other meat besides beef. It was covered in a nice chunky tomato based sauce. The falafel is also good here, but not as tasty as fresh out of the fryer.


The buffet of course is a serve yourself affair, and you pay down at the end of the line. It costs 9 bucks for all you can eat with drink and 5.99 per pound for take out. I think those prices are right. There are several tables both inside and outside at which to eat. The atmosphere isn’t great but at least they don’t try overly hard. This is just a very solid and dependable Middle Eastern place.

Now, many of you have probably seen or visited “Golden Wraps.” This silly-named establishment is located at the far end of the Jerusalem Bakery but has a separate entrance and it’s own little kitchen. This is where you can get a falafel fresh out of the fryer or a kebab, gyro or whatever. I assume that the owners are the same, but my opinion of Golden Wraps is totally opposite that of the Bakery/Buffet. Of course I’ve never technically eaten at Golden Wraps, but I just don’t like the name and the sign. I’m perfectly willing to change my mind. But when I come to this location, I can’t see passing up this delicious buffet.

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KC Grill & Kabob: 8611 Hauser Ct.

 Posted by at 8:20 pm
Jun 162008
 

KC Grill & Kabob is a nice little Middle Eastern lunch spot situated in the back of a shopping center off 87th Parkway in Lenexa. Despite its unassuming locale, it manages to create a friendly, bustling ambiance with a small sea of tables, some fresh plants in the window and a small buffet at the back of the place. On nice days, the door is propped open allowing a nice breeze to filter through. There are also a couple tables outside on the sidewalk. Inside there were two TVs quietly showing a DVD called “Belly Dancing Divas.” This certainly set the mood, but I found the mild titillation somewhat distracting.

It seems to be a buffet-only affair at lunchtime. Buffets are weird because you walk in and aren’t sure whether to hit to food line, sit down and wait, wait to be seated…whatever. These are details that irk insecure Midwestern diners. There is only one waitress working the place, and she seems to be hustling quite a bit even though there are no orders to take, and no food to deliver. But between seating people, taking drink orders, refilling glasses and busing tables she keeps busy. This is not really an issue until you need your check.

But I’m happy to report that the food here is generally quite good within certain boundaries. Basically, it’s good to experiment with the authentic items on the buffet, which most of them are. Some of the staples of Middles Eastern food are lacking (no hummus?) but there are some interesting things with names that I’ve forgotten, like an interesting lentil and tomato dish, some kind of sauce reminiscent of tzatsiki, and a small, flat, vegetable patty that tastes like an Indian pakorah.

I thought I overheard from the owner that this place reflects an Afghan perspective on middle Eastern food, but I have since learned that it is Persian. The first time I visited, a big round table was occupied by some native Iraqis who expressed great pleasure in the food. The owner tends to wander around the place, joking with people, checking up on whether they like the food. So you tend to overhear lots of things. Since I had not dined there before, the owner instructed the waitress to show me the buffet and explain what all the items were. A nice touch, but a tad awkward. The owner is quite a character, though. He was constantly making jokes I only half understood, and constantly talks to the assortment of regulars that eat there. The restaurant business attracts very colorful people. That’s my way of saying that you’d have to be crazy to open a restaurant, much less a Persian place in a Lenexa strip mall.

I’m happy to report that KC Grill & Kabob attracts a very nice lunch crowd and I’m not worried for its immediate future. Basically I like the place because the buffet makes it fast, it has a local owner who’s kind of a nutter, and some of the food is very good. I did have a couple of disappointing things on one visit. One chicken dish was basically cooked with cheap BBQ sauce and another with something reminiscent of Frank’s Red hot. It was probably Frank’s Red hot.

My advice? Stick with the kabobs and rice dishes (of which there are several). The cabbage rice in particular is excellent, something I’ve never had before. They always have grilled tomatoes, too which are a nice accompaniment to cooked meats. The Baba ghanoush is quite tasty, too but the pita (if that’s what it is) is thin and kind of cracker-like.

If it looks authentic, eat it. If it looks like BBQ chicken, don’t.

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Apr 252008
 

International Grocery/Taste of Russia has closed


This was an interesting lunch. I was driving east on 79th just beyond downtown Overland Park, heading god knows where when I saw this little spot I had not noticed before. There is a sign that reads “Taste of Russia.” Next to that is a sign that says “International Grocery.” In front of the door was a placard advertising $3.99 lunch specials with a free drink. A double-take and a u-turn later there I was. Here’s the story of how I went in pursuit of borscht and wound up with middle eastern food…

This place is absolutely nuts, and I loved it. A sign on the door in rambling, verbage described how they would honor any competitor’s coupons and would not be taken by scams or other unscrupulous business practices and so forth. Only the sign said it much less eloquently than that.

Inside was a small grocery full of all sorts of imported foodstuffs, vegetables in the sunset of their years, and items which can only be described as “knick knacks.” Very gaudy knick knacks. Anyhow, there was also a deli counter full of salamis, sausages, dried and pickled whole fish, and various other delights. But I wasn’t really getting a Russian vibe, mostly because the woman behind the counter was wearing an Islamic headscarf.

While waiting for the woman in front of me to remove 6 dozen coins from her handbag, count them, drop them, hand them over, take them back and hand them back again, I noticed that there were two tables by the front window with menus on them.

That’s right, just two tables.

I read the menu while the change-lady–who sure as hell isn’t Russian either–finally paid up. The menu was only barely making sense. “What’s good?” I ask the proprietess. “Kabobs” she replies.

Kabobs? I thought this was “Taste of Russia?” I mean, there was even a photo of Supreme Overlord Russian President Vladimir Putin behind the cash register. I asked about Russian food, and she indicated the “Salami, bologna kielbasas–stuff like that” is the Russian food. She didn’t sound too excited about it so I didn’t push my luck. I don’t want scary Russian bologna unless its prepared with love.

I ordered the kabobs.

She then told me it would take 15-20 minutes for her to prepare the meal. She disappeared behind a curtain for a long time. Someone came in the shop, looked at the menu and left. Someone else came in and talked (yelled) with the owner while she shopped. This was just too weird. I looked around the market while I waited and…hey wait, didn’t meesha post about Russian candy yesterday? Just went back and read the post and not surprisingly, he mentions Taste of Russia at the end. Is this like some kind of weird harmonic convergence? Anyhow, KC’s favorite Russian Jew is correct, there are a million kinds of candy at this place, easily 1/3 of their entire stock. I also discovered a hilarious soft drink called “Cockta” that I wanted to try but there was no bottle opener and the proprietor was hiding behind the magic curtain making my Russian kabobs or whatever. I was pretty much convinced this meal was going to be a disaster.

Jesus Christ that was a long wait, but finally the food arrived, steaming hot in a styrofoam container. And let me tell you, it was good, really good. If you had an Egyptian grandmother who was married to a Russian, this is what her food would taste like.

The kabob was very similar to the kind I had at Holyland Cafe, but came atop the most delicious rice dish I have ever had. The rice was cooked perfectly, and tasted simple and humble, complemented with nutty grains that looked like little brown squiggles, like…well, you ever seen fish poop? Anyway, there was also some chunky hummus which was surprisingly good and obviously made from dried garbanzo beans. The pita triangles were even toasted for my pleasure.

After I ate, I talked with the woman for a few minutes. She is indeed Egyptian and I couldn’t get a straight answer why there was a sign that said ‘Taste of Russia.’ outside. I asked about all the Russian foodstuffs, but she simply said “this is the international grocery, we have everything.”

This is definitely an odd experience, and I could go on and on, but I have rambled too much already. Basically, it’s a great little ethnic market that has a lot of stuff you won’t find anywhere else. I’m going to try the kielbasa next time, but I can’t imagine this will be a regular stop for me, just because the awkward atmosphere. But I’m very glad I went and think everyone should pop in when they are in the neighborhood. Buy some candy.

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Apr 082008
 

Holy Land Cafe is probably the best middle eastern food you’ll find out in this part of Johnson County. Actually I have no idea if that’s true since this is the only middle eastern place in JoCo I’ve eaten. But, I’m sticking by my declaration!

Exterior

HLC is a fairly interesting spot in an unremarkable strip mall at 87th and Monrovia. You can’t see it from the road because there is a Taco Bell in the way. From my red vinyl padded booth in this veritably empty restaurant I could see the Taco Bell drive-thru. They were cranking out hot cheesy beef melts and chalupas like crazy. The poor bastards at Holy Land Cafe can’t be making a decent living unless they are running stolen goods out the back door or something. Which I wouldn’t rule out.

Their website describes the place thusly: “Eastern aroma of mystery creates a calm quiet setting which includes classic and ethnic music.” Wow, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yeah it was totally like a harem in there, what with all the hotel art, formica and vinyl. As for the music, I don’t even remember what it was, but the dude in the kitchen was definitely watching some highly colorful “classic and ethnic” television.

Walking in the front door, it looks like this would be counter service, but you actually sit down and get waited on.

Interior

The guys who run the place are…well, moderately creepy is the only phrase for it. One dude who waits tables is definitely not rude, maybe just incredibly shy. I gave him my order and he kind of stood there until I gave him the menu. Then I said “that’s all I need, thanks” which is what gave him the cue to walk away. Yes, there was a Norman Bates quality to him.


Can I take your order sir?

But hey, the food is pretty good. I had a delicious kefta kabob pita, which came with a nice salad and a scoop of rice for good measure. Kefta kabobs are basically a delightful mixture of ground lamb and spices which are formed into balls and grilled. They were quite good and a nice change of pace from middle eastern staples like falafel. The menu featured all the usual suspects: shawarma, falafel, hummus, tabouleh, as well as some other lunch specials for six bucks and change. As with most restaurants of this kind, you’ll find some options for vegetarians as well.

Menu

The “Combo #1” is a shawarma plate, but the meat (steak and chicken) comes loose on the plate rather than in a sandwich. It’s accompanied by what is loosely called a Greek salad, a scoop of hummus, a dab of hot sauce, some soft pita triangles and a cup of tzaziki. This is a very tasty and satisfying plate that manages to be a good lunch portion without overfilling.

Shawarma combo

There is tons of other stuff on the menu, and I’ll most likely be back when I’m out in that neck of the woods. Holyland cafe is situated right next door to a pretty sizable and good looking halal market. It’s a like a little touch of Persia right in a strip mall in Lenexa.

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Tikka House: City Market

 Posted by at 8:58 pm
Jun 122007
 

It’s amazing how similar this place is to the Habashi House a few doors down. While ostensibly an “Indian” restaurant, Tikka House pays homage to the Mediterranean region in its humble offerings. It’s mostly lunch-type fare as you can imagine, with several types of Shawarma and curry sandwiches, sides like cucumber salad, rice, tahini salad. The food is about comparable to Habashi too, in terms of price, taste and speed.

The staff is incredibly friendly–and it’s amazing how much of a difference this makes. I’ll eat swill if they don’t treat me like a jerk. With the notable exception of Arthur Bryants. They could spit on my food right in front of me and I’d still eat it and like it.

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Habashi House: City Market

 Posted by at 7:34 pm
May 242007
 

Recently I have not been posting, due more to laziness than anything. Not just laziness in writing, mind you, but laziness in eating. i have taken to going to the same old joints or worse yet, bringing something from home and eating at work. Ugh, I gotta stop that.

A willingness to take the short jaunt across the highway to the City market certainly opens up more intriguing possibilities as far as lunch goes. I imagine if one worked over in that area, it would be nice to be able to patronize these establishments regularly. However, people like myself who work in downtown proper are a little more hard pressed to get over there, particularly if lunch has to be a quick thing. Fortunately, the weather has been nice-ish and my boss does not take much of an interest in whether I take 2 minutes or two hours for lunch, so the Market is shaping up to be a sweet little summertime alternative to the depressingly pedestrian array of crappy sandwich joints and questionable fast food enterprises that infrequently litter the area surrounding 11th and Main.

As a relative newbie in KC, my experiences of the City market area were somewhat tainted until recently. You see, when you move to Kansas City, everyone says, “Oh, you have to go to the City Market on Saturdays!” So of course, I did. Yeah it’s quite a scene, but it seems more geared toward suburbanites and children than anything else, what with all the vendors selling crappy scented candles, homemade soap, and jewelry that would even make a hippie run screaming. Well, maybe not. That reality, combined with the experience of trying to navigate the market proper around clueless couples pushing the puffiest baby carriages in the world, made me a little hesitant to return. When did baby carriages get so damned big anyway? These things are like covered wagons these days.

Anyhow, on to Habashi house, a decent little Middle Eastern Lunch spot near the Northwest corner of the market complex. The people who work here are insanely friendly–all smiles and very welcoming. The menu offers pretty typical mediterranean fare: Gyros, Falafel, Hummus, Tabouleh, etc. This is really a much needed change of pace when lunch rolls around, because a big old greasy falafel really hits the spot like nothing else. You order at the counter, fetch your own drink and wait a short 3 minutes or so for some swarthy dude to bring a tray out to your table. Habayashi House offers free hot tea which is nice if you are into that sort of thing. A sandwich comes with one side (like hummus & pita, for example), a few olives and will set you back about five bucks. Add a little more for a drink and a counter tip and you are out of there under $7.

Sounds great, right? Well, mostly it is, but sadly the food could be a little better. The chicken gyro for instance was served with an odd, pinkish sauce that bore little resemblance to the typical yogurt-based gyro condiment. The falafel is indeed good but not spectacular. One day I went in and the cook gave a me a huge helping of free rice because he had accidentally made too much. That was great, but the rice was pretty boring. I always end up getting enough to eat, though that’s not usually a problem in these United States.

The decor would be pretty drab without the ragtag assortment of colorful blankets and rugs on the wall. They have a variety of seating and the space is never full at lunch during the week. Best of all, they rock the authentic Middle Eastern music in this place which is great, cuz I don’t need Steely Dan with my baba ganoush.

So I give Habashi house my whole hearted recommendation as a viable lunch place, but if you have any Persian friends in town, don’t expect them to be overly impressed.

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