A 90-year-old Standard Oil gas station, now renovated into an eatery, sits unassumingly on Tower Grove Avenue and McRee Avenue. The refurbished facade of white and red tiles frames a garage bay and tall windows, gold painted letters spelling out “Olio” draw in anyone driving through Botanical Heights. The interior is warmly lit and brilliantly designed. The walls are covered in exposed white brick; weathered wooden shelves and marble countertops add yet more character. Each object is thoughtfully placed, both old and new in contrast, and is an aesthetic-lovers dream.
It is easy for one to feel at home whilst dining in Olio – a record player sits in the corner, next to the garage bay door that is predominantly windows and hums old tunes, small vases of hydrangeas sit on each table, and liquid paraffin candles provide light when the sun goes down. A quote from Oscar Wilde sits on the bottom of the menu. “I’m a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best,” truly does sum up all that Olio is.
Olio is a wine bar and restaurant that opened its doors in the autumn of 2012. Attached to the backside of the reinvented gas station is its more upscale sister restaurant, Elaia. The Olio menu focuses on small plates meant to be shared: including, salsa verde with ciabatta, charcuterie and cheese boards, charred eggplant spread, or hummus accompanied by pita and French bread. There are also many dishes that are very similar to their Elaia counterparts. Furthermore, they have one of the most diverse wine lists in St. Louis. Many of their wines have a rich history from different regions of the world, and Olio also has rose wine made specifically for them. Olio offers a less expensive and more casual dining experience, which is ideal for SLU students looking for something different than another burrito bowl at Qdoba. It is not a far drive from SLU’s campus, and it is situated next to some other great eateries, like Old Standard and La Patisserie Chouquette.
Living in the Chicago area, one of my favorite things to do was to go into the city and try out different restaurants that I would see on Instagram or have recommended to me by friends living in the city. So before I moved to St. Louis, I did my fair share of research on different restaurants and cafes that could compete with some of my favorites back home in Chicago, and, once I completed my search, Olio was on the top of my list.
When I first sat down and took a look at the menu, I really did want to order it all. It was hard enough trying to decide which variety of hummus to get, let alone what I wanted to eat for my actual meal.
Luckily, I was with my family and friends, so I got to try a wide range of food. Throughout the evening, we ate lahmacun, hummus, prosciutto sandwich with gruyere, and chicken tagine.
Lahmacun is a Turkish flatbread that slightly resembles a small pizza. It is actually thin dough topped with minced meat and vegetables and herbs, like onions, parsley, and tomatoes. I was pleasantly surprised by how absolutely flavorful and savory it was. It was presented enticingly, and I would return to Olio just to get this again.
We ordered the “king of kings” hummus, which had paprika, pine nuts and was chock full of extra virgin olive oil. Not only was this the most visually pleasing dish, it was quite appetizing with the warm pita bread that came alongside. The prosciutto and Gruyere sandwich, or “ham and cheese” as it is on the Olio menu, caught my eye, being the self-appointed prosciutto enthusiast that I am. It was joined with some other spreads like Dijon and was a very palatable plate. Chicken Tagine was the last thing I tried. The chicken meat was extremely tender and the rice was piquant, Chef Ben Poremba created a great nod to the Middle East with this dish.
St. Louis is very lucky to have a restaurant like Olio. Between the atmosphere and the food, it could be reckoned among St. Louis’ very best.