A bigger, better Olive Oyl’s
When asked what’s good to eat in Essex, I tend to send folks to either the Griswold Inn wine bar or to Olive Oyl’s as a more casual option — with a caveat. Yes, you’ll find delicious sandwiches, prepared foods, and fun foodie treats in Olive Oyl’s, I’d say, but be aware that the place is tiny and, due to its popularity, usually crammed with hungry fans.
We can remove that caveat now that Olive Oyl’s has moved to a much bigger new location at the top of Main Street, in a space formerly occupied by the Village Provision Company, which closed in 2016. With a dedicated seating area and much more space for perusing the menu and the day’s offerings in the fresh-foods case, Olive Oyl’s can now comfortably serve its well-earned legion of fans while offering more of its usual goodies both house-made and retail.
On a recent single-digit evening, I pulled up to Olive Oyl’s, which was mercifully open past 5 p.m., its lights shining like a beacon in the frozen world. I was hungry, cold, and in search of dinner for my household, so when I saw one of the sandwich specials of the day, Braised Beef Short Rib on a baguette ($9.95), I decided my dinner would come earlier than the mister’s and ordered one of those right away. Here’s why: the Braised Beef sammie is served warm with melted Taleggio cheese atop the tasty, tender beef — no stringy bits here. Its baguette vehicle was lightly toasted and flavorful and contained the whole construction nicely. (Read: I was able to eat it on the drive home.)
The mister wasn’t terribly amused that the braised beef didn’t survive the ride home, but in the end we were both more than satisfied with Dinner Part 2: chipotle chicken empanadas ($4.50 each), one giant pork loin and cheese arepa ($7.95), and a bountiful Mediterranean Salad ($9.95). I presumed the arepa — a corn cake layered with pork loin and cheddar and mozzarella cheeses — would emerge our favorite item. Indeed, it was tasty enough thanks to the thinly sliced pork loin layer and cheeses, but the corn cake layer, with a touch of pleasant sweetness, struck us as a little bit dry. Now, the arepas live in a refrigerated case at Olive Oyl’s, and I elected to warm mine up at home, so it’s very possible the dryness is a result of user error on my part. As big fans of these hearty Venezuelan treats, we would try Olive’s again with more guidance.
It was the empanadas (think small, savory turnovers) that took the win that night. We enjoyed every bit of them, starting with their perfect flaky crust. Empanadas are sometimes served fried, but Olive’s took the healthier route and baked theirs, if the lack of grease and fresh clean flavors are any indicator. The chicken within was mixed with baked bits of potato and a chipotle seasoning with a healthy kick of heat and a wee bit of sweetness. Talk about the perfect food for a very cold winter night!
As for the Mediterranean Salad, it could have been its own meal. Ample greens, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppadews aside, the salad also comes with two very good dolmades (more vinegar-zesty than sweet), three rolls of turkey breast, and lots of salty but not too salty feta cheese. There’s so much natural flavor going on in this mix that I’m tempted to say you barely need the accompanying Greek-style dressing, but then you’d miss out on a very good specimen thereof. Neither too tangy nor too tame, the dressing benefits, we suspect, from excellent olive oil and an expert hand with the herbs.
As a big fan of breakfast out, I made certain to try one of Olive Oyl’s breakfast offerings on a recent frigid morning. My breakfast burrito ($5.95) made the short trip from warm, cozy car to Olive’s entrance worth every icy second. Some might blanch at the price, but for the money you get a meal’s worth of food — two eggs, avocado, salsa, and cheddar cheese — in a warmed tasty wrap. I elected to go sans avocado and finished up quite full nonetheless. Every ingredient in the wrap stood out, from the perfectly scrambled, fresh eggs, to the bright and tomato-forward salsa, to the very flavorful cheddar cheese. Taken together, we’ve got a breakfast of champions (just add coffee).
For lunch, I grabbed a Lebanese meat pie ($2.95 each). I‘d noticed a few varieties of the small, savory pastries on my first visit and nearly got one, but then I saw the empanadas. Next time, we’ll pair the empanadas with some meat pies, because they are wonderful. I chose a basic meat pie (there was a chorizo pie option, too) and found all the flavor one can want in a dish in a single bite. The seasoned beef within a triangle of soft, pita-like bread presented a spectrum of flavor, from sweet to piquant to savory, with citrus and herbal notes in between. The overall flavor was similar to that of the dolmades filling: zesty and bright, but with an added layer of grilled meat flavor. Even better, the one pie made for a satisfying lunch for all of $3.
Here’s the thing about Olive Oyl’s: There is so much to see and taste, made much easier to do thanks to the shop’s new space. Beyond its extensive sandwich menu and prepared foods case, one will also find lovely desserts, bagels and muffins, plus a full coffee bar, which on a recent visit was offering a S’mores Latte special. Then you’ve got the gourmet grocery items, kitchen items (hand-made wooden spoons, anyone?), and special services like professional knife-sharpening. It’s a little slice of foodie heaven that I will be happy to continue recommending to folks in search of culinary respite.
6 Main St., Essex
Cuisine: Sandwiches, soups, gourmet prepared foods and desserts, breakfast, and more.
Atmosphere: Vintage gas station signs and equipment are a nod to the building’s former life as a service station; other vintage and food-inspired bric-a-brac add to a charming welcoming space, which includes a small dining area.
Service: Very friendly and efficient
Prices: Technically a $9 or $10 sandwich is pricey, but for the quality and excellent service, many won’t mind paying the premium. Still, cheaper items priced at less than $5 can make up a satisfying meal, too. Many of the prepared foods of the day are priced by weight.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
Accessibility: Has its own parking lot, no steps to enter, spacious interior
Credit cards: Accepted
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