Olive Bistro continues offering Mediterranean fare on Juniper Street

Olive Bistro’s Mediterranean sampler (left) includes tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, dolmas, lentils and rice, and tzatziki; the deluxe falafel platter is at right. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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Olive Bistro’s Mediterranean sampler (left) includes tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, dolmas, lentils and rice, and tzatziki; the deluxe falafel platter is at right. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

When Sari Masri was growing up in Israel, he was so picky about food that he’d run away from school to eat lunch at home.

As an adult, he wanted his own restaurant, but his father thought it was an unworthy role for a man. Masri came to the U.S. in 1981, studied engineering, got married, and bided his time.

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The Olive Bistro location in Midtown is open for takeout and delivery. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVE BISTRO

The Olive Bistro location in Midtown is open for takeout and delivery. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVE BISTRO

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The Olive Bistro location in Midtown is open for takeout and delivery. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVE BISTRO

After his father died, he announced to his wife, Kay, that he was going to open a cafe. Kay told him she would keep her corporate job as a Macy’s executive, as a safety net. In 1997, the Masris unveiled Olive Bistro in Little Five Points, serving the hummus, falafel and baba ghanoush Sari remembered from his mother’s table in Israel.

Before too long, Kay noticed that, when they went to the grocery store together, many women recognized Sari. What was this about? Turned out, they were customers who had sought out his spicy eggplant when they were pregnant, hoping it would induce labor. Many of the patrons from those early days still frequent Olive Bistro, which nowadays operates in Midtown and Vinings.

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Olive Bistro’s Mediterranean platter includes tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, dolmas, lentils and rice, and tzatziki sauce. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Olive Bistro’s Mediterranean platter includes tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, dolmas, lentils and rice, and tzatziki sauce. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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Olive Bistro’s Mediterranean platter includes tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, dolmas, lentils and rice, and tzatziki sauce. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Kay Masri told me all this when I called to ask how Olive Bistro is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. She said her husband, ever particular about ingredients, was out shopping for fresh lettuce. The couple suspended operations at their Vinings restaurant on March 16. Meanwhile, they’ve been making do by offering takeout from their Juniper Street storefront.

Sari Masri goes in early each morning to prepare food in the downstairs kitchen. He leaves. Then, a cook arrives to assemble orders for lunch and dinner. A server handles the front of house, handing boxed orders to drivers and customers who pull up curbside. This streamlined process minimizes contact.

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Olive Bistro’s classic Greek moussaka, as plated at home by our writer. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Olive Bistro’s classic Greek moussaka, as plated at home by our writer. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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Olive Bistro’s classic Greek moussaka, as plated at home by our writer. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Financially, things are a bit more stressful. Kay left her job after 9/11 to take care of her family and focus on the restaurant. “I stupidly gave up my corporate job to help him, which worked out fine until now,” she said. “Now, you’ve got both people tied to the same income, and it’s a very scary thing.”

In 2002, Olive Bistro moved from Little Five Points to Midtown Place, the shopping center across from Ponce City Market. By 2018, Kay Masri said, costs had become prohibitive and conditions unfavorable for small business owners, so Olive Bistro found a new home on Juniper Street. She said 2018 “was horrible, because we were in the middle of relocating, and it was all construction.”

The 12-year-old Vinings bistro was the main source of revenue. It took about a year for things to get back up to speed in Midtown, but things were looking up. They were bringing in live musicians, and the neighborhood loved it. “We were poised to have the best year ever,” Kay said. “Then, boom! This happened.”

Though Gov. Brian Kemp has said Georgia restaurants can welcome dine-in customers beginning April 27, she said too many questions remain for Olive Bistro to do that anytime soon.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Olive Bistro Midtown

Menu: a full compendium of Middle Eastern staples and meze: hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, pita wraps and pockets; plus, lasagna, ravioli, moussaka and spanakopita. Family meals available with 24-hour notice.

Alcohol: beer and wine; all wine half off

What I ordered: deluxe falafel platter (with hummus, salad, gyro meat, tzatziki and tahini); Mediterranean platter, with my personalized choices of baba ghanoush, dolmas, tabbouleh, and rice and lentils; moussaka. The food was pretty basic, and some items traveled better than others. I drizzled the falafel platter with tahini and tzatziki together, scooping it up with pita. The dolmas, steamed in tomato broth, were quite good, as were the baba ghanoush and rice and lentils. The tabbouleh, with parsley and cucumber, had lost its fresh, vibrant texture and looked a little wan. Moussaka was nicely constructed, with potatoes, eggplant, meat sauce and the traditional custardy bechamel topping. Leftovers will be welcome.

Service options: takeout, and delivery via Uber Eats, DoorDash, Zifty, Postmates and Grubhub.

Safety protocols: The small staff works independently and follows safety protocols. Customers are asked to order and pay online, or over the phone. Curbside pickup.

Address, phone: 1050 Juniper St. NE, Atlanta. 404-874-5336. (Vinings location is closed temporarily, with plans to reopen in early May.)

Hours: 12-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. 12-8:30 p.m. Sundays.

Website: olivebistro.com.

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