The Olive Bistro

3230 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta

Barring its name, there’s only one thing about The Olive Bistro in Vinings that’s truly evocative of the restaurant’s older sister in Midtown: its menu.

Owner Steve Masri, who was born in Sardinia and raised in Israel, has created a tiny enclave for Vinings — certainly as casual and low-key as the Midtown location, but this Olive Bistro touts a quiet café style, with a more polished décor and attitude.

And the lamb kebabs are every bit as tasty in Vinings.

Midtown’s location has made a name for itself as a haven for those seeking something other than fast food when it comes time to break for lunch — and the fast-paced, urban atmosphere, along with affordable menu items, has made it a bustling success.

Vinings, on the other hand, proffers a sense of formality Midtown eschews. Here, it seems more natural to relax into a bottle of wine, order a round of Masri’s famous cumin-laced falafel and settle into plates of meze, from house-made hummus, creamy and rife with garlic, to the incredibly fresh, mysteriously perfumed tapenade that spreads perfectly over pita.

Like Midtown, the moussaka is a little more like Mediterranean shepherd’s pie — with a thick layer of potatoes on top — than what’s usually found on traditional Greek menus. And the sandwiches and wraps — especially the gyros — are terrific bargains.

But evening brings a low-pitched repast of chicken roasted with rosemary, lemon and garlic and served over the restaurant’s trademark mixture of rice and lentils, spiced with cumin and pepper, or traditional dolmades stuffed with rice and pine nuts over rice and lentils and served with hummus and pita. Tender chunks of lamb, skewered on a kebab with tomatoes, are a house specialty.

Truth told, Olive Bistro is a rare breed of restaurant these days. Wounded by the recession, high-end dining is choking to death, while chains take on the hordes of suburbanites looking for a reliable meal deal. It’s understandable, but tragic. What Masri offers — and always has (the first Olive Bistro opened in 1997 in Little Five Points before moving to Midtown) — is an affordable meal from a business that’s local and family-owned and that serves fresh, well-prepared food. Not exquisite, exceptional, oh-my-goodness-stop-what-you’re-doing-and-go-now food (well, maybe the falafel). But good food, with not much funny business.

Housed in the same strip mall as Tomo and C & S Seafood and Oyster Bar, Olive Bistro is a neighborhood restaurant lacking an immediate neighborhood, though the heart of Vinings is nearby. Airlifted to a community with foot traffic, it would be packed 24/7.

The menu touts Masri’s signature ravioli of the day, but the lone server-manager-chief-cook-and-bottle washer (who gives the restaurant a gregarious charm) will tell you it’s not available. More room to peruse the meze, which is the most fun anyway. Marinated eggplant touts lemon and garlic, and Jerusalem salad bites back just a little with the nutty flavor of tahini tossed into chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and minced parsley.

For something sweet, the baklava offers a surprising hit of cinnamon, though the goofy drizzles of creamy sauce would be better left in the kitchen. Turkish coffee is a must.

But I think what impresses me most about Olive Bistro is that it never promises what it can’t deliver. It doesn’t profess to be innovative or creative. It serves up meals with spice and enough oomph to warrant coming back. And they’ll be enough spice left in your pocket to do so.

The Olive Bistro

Overall rating:

Food: Mediterranean

Service: Very personalized and efficient

Price range: $-$$

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express

Hours of operation: Open for lunch Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Open Saturday for lunch and dinner from noon until 9 p.m.

Best dishes: Falafel, lamb kebabs, rosemary chicken, Jerusalem salad, hummus and pita, marinated eggplant

Vegetarian selections: Meze and salads galore

Children: Yes

Parking: Adjacent lot

Reservations: Call ahead only

Wheelchair access: Yes

Smoking: No

Noise level: Low

Patio: Yes

Takeout: Yes

Address, telephone: 3230 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta, 770-272-8900

Web site: www.olivebistro.com

Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.

Key to AJC ratings

Outstanding

Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.

Excellent

One of the best in the Atlanta area.

Very good

Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.

Good

A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.

Fair

Food is more miss than hit.

Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.

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