This week, Monica and I finally visited the much-talked-about Olive Branch Mediterranean Foods in East Ridge. Located at 3992 Ringgold Road, Olive Branch is a combination deli, bakery and grocer with a rotating selection of authentic Mediterranean cuisine served daily from the kitchen.
I get some flack from readers for typically waiting several months to try a new restaurant. But I like to let places work out any kinks that might come from being new. Olive Branch opened in May, and since the doors opened, I've been getting emails and recommendations from readers. Everybody loves Olive Branch, and after our visit, I can see why. The baked goods alone are worth the drive from downtown.
As an aside, I believe I'd promised someone else I would visit Olive Branch with them for this experience. I somehow lost our correspondence. If that was you, email me and I'll make it up to you with another dinner in the new year. And also, thanks to Dr. Betsy Alderman for the multiple emails insisting I visit Olive Branch. You can stop now.
The exterior of Olive Branch is a bit more modern than I expected, and the interior was even more surprising. For some reason, I imagined a proper restaurant with tablecloths and tableside service would be the situation. Not true. Olive Branch is operated more like a small European/Latino grocery store with shelves of ethnic groceries, a full deli counter and a few tables—in the other room—to sit and dine.
Olive Branch is special because of the people. From the moment we walked inside, we were greeted as if we were family. As the only patrons for the first few minutes of our visit, the owners walked us through the various aspects of the restaurant. Olive Branch offers daily hot bar selections that range from traditional Greek dishes to—as on this night—spaghetti and meatballs. The selections also include a daily vegetarian option and several sides, like potatoes or salad. The hot bar is $8.99 or less.
We placed our orders and decided to leave our tab open for dessert. Monica was eyeing an enormous diples (not "dimples") in the display. The dessert is several thin layers of fried dough with a simple concoction of honey and cinnamon drizzled on top. Yes, please.
I don't plan much for Date Night Dining. It's easier to just let it happen—to make day-of decisions about a location—whenever possible. Monica and I both are naturally indecisive, hemming and hawing our way through choices. We both would be much better-suited to prison life and its limited choices, I think. But the owners were more than happy to help us out.
Monica ordered from the hot bar. The chicken piccata smelled wonderful, with lemons and salty capers adding flavor to the large breast pieces. Greek potatoes were the side, along with a Greek salad that Monica said she "could eat every day." I had difficulty making a decision until the owner said, "We have the best gyro in town." How could I not order a gyro after a statement like that? Monica's plate was prepared from the bar, and my sandwich was made in the kitchen and delivered to the table. We both got a bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water. All that was missing from the experience was a view of the Mediterranean Sea. The parking lot and traffic along Ringgold Road had to do.
We sat at our table and started with the chicken piccata. Although the chicken was good, it was the Greek salad that stood out to us. Huge chunks of feta cheese, fresh olives and tomatoes on lettuce made for a salad that would knock anybody's head for a spin. I can't remember the last time I've had a simple salad taste this good.
And then the gyro was delivered to the table.
I've never seen a gyro this big, and the pictures don't do it justice. For $7.99, it was more than I should've eaten in one sitting (even if I did consume the entire thing). Not only was the portion generous, but the tzatziki sauce was the best I've ever tasted. As we were leaving, I told the owner that she was 100 percent accurate with her statement. She told me the key to a good tzatziki sauce is quality Greek yogurt and that Olive Branch imports the best. If you're looking for a quality gyro in Chattanooga, you owe it to yourself to stop by Olive Branch. But arrive hungry.
The dessert counter is impressive. We saw thumbprint cookies with various jellies, black and white cookies that will never fail to remind of that "Seinfeld" episode, and, of course, several variations of baklava and other assorted pastries. Monica and I weren't hungry (we were stuffed, actually) and opted for the folded diples to snack on while on the road. The fluffy dough was both crunchy and chewy—reminiscent of Honey Smacks cereal in dough form. I'm hooked. It was even better for breakfast the next day.
Would we go back?
If you live in East Ridge—or "out that way," as we say—you probably already know about Olive Branch. If, like us, you hadn't visited this restaurant, I don't think you can say you've had "the best Greek food in town" without giving it a shot. I'm glad we did. It proved that I should listen to my readers more often.
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Updated @ 7:04 a.m. on 12/20/16 to correct a typographical error.