Olivia’s Diner: Let’s call it American fusion

This post was written by Senior Staff Writer Josh Solomon. 

Next door to Nooshi and around the corner from “old Chipotle,” the newly opened Olivia’s Diner dances between a fanciful eatery – its marble bar is accessorized with martini glasses and premium liquors – and late-night hangout.

Olivia’s was advertised as a 24-hour diner, but the joint, with its dimly lit leather booths, hasn’t drummed up the business to stay open all night just yet, its manager said. If Olivia’s decides to expand its wacky hours, it could become a staple for late-night revelers and those in need of a study break – especially because most restaurants in the area, like Tonic and Circa, close much earlier.

For now, I hope that by the time the school year swings around, the diner has its identity figured out.

Diners expecting disco fries or matzah ball soup are in for a treat or a shock: Instead of diner grub, you’ll be treated to fine decor and quasi-gourmet eats. If you can embrace this combination – let’s call it American fusion, where tater tots, turkey pot pie and spicy shrimp salad are all on the menu – Olivia’s could be a spot for many occasions. And in place of the Clip Art pictures of eggs and pancakes that often adorn diner menus,  there are Julia Child quotes at the bottom of each page. (“People who love to eat are always the best people.”)

Unlike The Diner in Adams Morgan, Olivia’s has an overall more upscale feel. Its burgers come with a mission statement: Olivia’s gets its beef from naturally-raised cows, blends three different cuts (chuck, short rib and brisket) and cooks the beef on a cast iron skillet. The joint is owned by Tri Nguyen (also co-owner of Pete’s New Haven Style Pizza)

Despite being responsibly sourced, the burgers are nothing special. A medium-cooked three-pound burger ($8, without additions) was borderline well-done, not particularly juicy and the patty barely stayed together.

Its buttery brioche bun was delicious, but the experience was stifled by a tomato slice that tasted old and the smoked paprika aioli was a salty $1 addition that didn’t stack up to sauces served for free at Good Stuff Eatery.

After you unroll your napkin, which resembles a Bounty paper towel, you uncover heavy, fine-looking silverware – nothing says American fusion more than paper towel-wrapped, glitzy silverware.

Other meals you can attack with these tools are the Jackson’s Southern Fried Chicken ($15) with aged cheddar mac n’ cheese and green beans or the Bubba’s Smothered Pork Chop ($16) with caramelized onion gravy, sautéed mushrooms, gratin potatoes and seasonal vegetables, options that reminded me of a diner’s typical breadth.

Regardless of the restaurant’s current conflicted status, breakfast is served all day and much can be forgiven. You can order one pancake ($3 to $4) or four ($9 to $13) and find yourself confronted with frisbee-sized discs. If you forget the fact that Olivia’s charges $1.50 for a “side of pure Vermont maple syrup,” the pancakes are perfect alternative to endless late-night Crepeaway orders – though Olivia’s has no plans to accept GWorld.

The cinnamon bun pancake is pre-seasoned with cinnamon, and a cream cheese frosting is glazed over the plate-sized pancake. Served thin and a little crispy, its flavors remain bold and sweet enough – while being a cheap four bucks for a fairly filling size – to qualify as bomb food any time of day.

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