Sunday, May 3, 2009

Brunch at Olivia

** Editor's note: the restaurant group that owns Olivia decided to close it in the Fall of 2016. They repurposed it as Lucy's On The Fly, a fried chicken carry out spot. **

I just returned from Sunday brunch at Olivia, one of the first places I wrote about on this here blog. I am a brunch lover, and don't often get to eat it, so this was a real treat! Arriving a little before noon with no reservation didn't pose any problems. The restaurant was probably at two-thirds capacity, and we got seated right away. I must say, it's a building that's very architecturally interesting, with high ceilings, modern lines, and in the daytime, nice light pouring in. Dining sections are divided a bit by.... well, built in wall dividers, that held vases with tropicals. We were seated in pretty much the exact spot where I sat before, which is the bench across from the kitchen. Unfortunately, my back was to the kitchen, where you could tell they were keeping busy.

We both started with bellinis, and sipped on them while checking out the brunch menu. Always a sucker for sweet and salty, I ordered the brioche French toast with a side of sausage. The waitress asked me what kind of syrup would I like, the vanilla or lemon ginger, so I asked her what her preference was, and she said "I'll bring you both, choices are fun!". Perfect! My friend ordered 2 eggs, poached medium, bacon, and asked to substitute the fries with the smoked gouda grits, which was no problem. My plate was three thick pieces of bread, egg soaked, and grilled off, with some slices of pear on top. The FT was nice, maybe not the tenderest, eggiest brioche that I've ever had, but quite tasty; unfortunately the pears were very underripe. The syrups were a nice twist from a typical maple syrup; the vanilla infused was particularly good, the lemon ginger had nice flavor, but was a bit overly sweet, even for me. The housemade sausage, however, was delicious -- a medium grind pork sausage with whole fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and I think some sage and/or thyme. The grits were a little coarse, but had really good flavor from the smoked gouda, and the house-cured bacon was crisp, with I think a light smoky flavor. My friend was thrilled her poached eggs were cooked to a perfect medium; we did have to ask for salt & pepper though, and a small piece of bread would have been nice on the plate to sop up the yolk.

Service was friendly all around, and attentive but not obtrusive from our main waitress. When we got up to leave, the line chefs looked up and like all said "Bye, thanks!" Kinda nice. I am really glad to see that in a poorer economy, a newer place like Olivia appears to be doing well. As we left, we were admiring the plants in their landscaping around the patio area, and noticed a garden towards the back. We walked over, and saw banana peppers, mesclun, basil, thyme, oregano, tomatoes, and possibly green beans (no tag on them, but they have built a trellis). There's no fence around it, so so hopefully the critters stay out! I should add that Olivia's is dedicated to buying locally as much as possible, and they list their local farms and purveyors on their menu, which is always nice to see.


There's been this little Mexican place not far from me that I've heard really good things about for a couple of years, and somehow, just never managed to get there. Went for dinner last night with a couple of girlfriends, and there's a consensus that we've discovered a new neighborhood gem.

Habanero is one block east of the Oltorf and S. 1st intersection in a older house. At a little past 7:30 on Friday night, they had a few diners, but it wasn't full. Our waitress was very friendly, and we spoke with her in a combo of English and Spanish throughout the evening. After ordering cervezas, and munching on the chips and fresh-made salsa that arrived with the beers, we settled on an appetizer of "Nacho Supreme", which was a huge plate of tortilla chips with seasoned ground beef and covered in good white cheese. Not sure which cheese it was, but it melted super well, had nice mellow flavor, and wasn't a greasy pool. Their tortilla chips are really nice also, a nice thickness, and enought corn flavor to them. Don't know if they make them there or not.

I ordered the gorditas, which according to their menu is one of their specialities. Described by them as "a Mexican hamburger," our waitress suggested it with the beef fajita. It's a large plate! The corn cake part was really good -- crispy on the outer part, and slightly softer in the middle. The beef fajita meat had a nice grilled flavor, and the meat was fairly tender. It came with refried beans, rice, guacamole, lettuce & tomatoes.

My friends split the beef fajita platter for two; they each got their own plate of charro beans, guacamole, and tortillas (one ordered flour, the other corn, and without even asking who ordered what, our waitress placed the right tortillas in front of the right person). While I didn't taste their meat because I assume it was the same as in my gordita, I did try the charro beans (pintos) which were fantastic. A light bit of smokiness, and good pork flavor. When I go back, I would substitute the charros for the refrieds.

We were too stuffed for dessert, but they have sopaipillas on the menu, which I would bet are great. Overall, it was a great evening -- all the food was fresh and tasty, and the service friendly and very efficient. I am excited to have a casual place that's nearby and not a trendy spot like some of the others around here!