Olive Room Lunch

There’s an old saying about wanting something so much that you wish it into reality.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember that old saying right now, although I have the vague feeling that it may be Eastern European. But I’m not about to sit here and Google, “Old Saying About Wishing For Stuff.”

Needless to say, that old saying wouldn’t apply here because, as much as we wish that a decent place for lunch would open up downtown, we’re still stuck with the likes of the greasy and slow Flames (142 Montgomery St.) and the country-fried meat-laced veggies of the Farmers Market Cafe (315 N. McDonough).

Sure, we know Cool Beans has recently re-opened, but we have yet to return to their newest incarnation for a lunch. Here’s hoping their prices have come down a bit. And yes, Saza is really good. But we still need more decent lunch places downtown.

Our hopes were exceedingly high when we heard that the Olive Room was going to start serving lunch. It’s a nice venue. We’ve never had dinner there because entrees run between 20 and 30 bucks, but we’ve heard the food at night is among the best in town. But lunch? At $9 (including chips and a drink)? Sounds awesome!

Yet, again with the wishing.

We wished so hard that I even went twice to see if it would be better the second time. That’s because the first time I went, I was puzzled that the menu seemed to consist of only five things. You have to go in and walk up to the bar in the back to order. And you’ve got five options. And if you’re vegetarian, you’ve got one: the pine nut salad.

I explained to the guy that I didn’t want a pine nut salad and he said his chef could “do me up” a Caprese Panini. It turned out to be sort of a Cuban with, well, tomato, cheese, and maybe a tiny green ribbon of basil in there somewhere. It was greasy and pretty good, as would be any decent cheese that had been pressed into bread in some mass market sandwich pressing machine. Also greasy and pretty good (in that order) were the homemade chips it came with. Yet, at the end of the meal, I reflected on the fact that I had just spent $9 on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Sure, the tomatoes were good. And sure, it’s a hip, funky, sort of dark place, with couches and a weird ancient elevator in which they have placed a tiny table (think about a romantic date that edges closer to creepy due to the tiny size of the elevator). But a $9 lunch is supposed to be a bargain, not an investment in atmosphere. And when they’ve cranked 70s glam rock so loud that you have to yell to be heard, we left less than thrilled with our lunch, although we were coated in a nice shimmering reflective glaze of grease from the homemade chips.

But like those theater performances of Peter Pan, where they get the lady to play Peter Pan and the fast-moving spotlight to play Tinkerbell, the kids in the audience have to clap to bring Tinkerbell back to life after she is pierced by Captain Hook. You have to clap really loud to show that you believe, because, kids, the power of belief can conquer death. Note to self: Peter Pan is a damned filthy liar.

No matter how much you want to believe, lunch at the Olive Room is not, in fact, good. We went back another time for a $9 special and I decided to try something else: a tomato-basil “pita.” I asked about the nature of this “pita” and the guy behind the counter (who had just been bragging about being a big supporter of off-the-deep end Tea Party Congressperson Martha Roby), explained that it was more of a “pizza” than a “pita.” Maybe they just thought those two words sounded enough alike that they were likely synonyms.

Well, it was either that or the damned pine nut salad. And it may be an odd thing for a vegetarian to say, but a salad ain’t a lunch. Maybe you can trick it out with some boiled egg and artichoke hearts, like some kind of mutant concoction at Jason’s Deli. But most places, I don’t want your salad as my entree.

The pita? Sure enough, it’s got tomato. And cheese. And basil. Where have I seen these ingredients before? Oh right, on the grilled cheese I paid $9 for last week. This time around, they’re all laid flat on a crusty piece of dough cut into four pieces. And some chips. And a drink. Sigh. Nine dollars. Salt cheese salt coma.

My dining partner had no complaints about his chicken sandwich, although noted that it was “nothing exceptional.” He was far more impressed by the atmosphere and hoped to return for a dinner sometime.

And I guess I’m willing to do that too. The dinner may well be spectacular. The lunches certainly were not. But it’s not their fault they saw an opening in the totally crappy current downtown lunch market. And the $9 lunch seems like a bargain when you factor in chips and a drink. And yet, you leave feeling greasy and light in the wallet. No wonder it has been pretty empty both times I went.

Sorry Tinkerbell. I just can’t keep clapping.

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2 responses to “Olive Room Lunch

  1. there is a small mexican place with a big name. la coronilla grill cosina mexicana. in the past it seems there were problems staying open, so planning to eat there was problematic. not sure if there’s new owners or what, but they seem to have resolved those issues. i’ve only dined there once but my basic choice of taco, tostada, rice and beans was as good as it gets. fresh, fresh and well presented. they not only had great salsa, but also complimentary pico de gallo which was excellent. might be worth checking out. on the west side service road on north eastern blvd a stones throw north of wares ferry.

  2. Thanks for the heads up on lunch. I went to the Olive Room for my anniversary (sat in the elevator) and thought the only time I’d probably ever go back was for lunch. The food was good, but for my pocketbook, not worth the cost. I chalked the dinner up as a new expensive experience- it was the oldest elevator in Alabama and the atmosphere was a rare treat for this area.

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