As I perused the Olly’s online menu before my visit to the restaurant, I prepared my stomach for a hefty American meal. My fantasies included an epic cheese pull from a steamy plate of nachos, sinus–clearing from a plate of heavily flavored, saucy chicken wings, and, of course, a juicy bite of an all–American burger. These meals gave me the image of a slightly trashy dive bar, with flashing neon signs and a wall of cheap liquors.
Upon entering Olly, I was met with the exact opposite of my daydreams. The restaurant was quaint and modern, with colors ranging from light to dark gray. The low lighting provided a romantic energy, with a soft candle lit at every table. It looked like a great place to take family or a hot date.
Our server was bubbly, with an attitude that could only be described as millennial. She relayed the menu to us as if we were her friends, eager to share reviews of her favorite drinks and plates on the menu. After comparing the options provided, we settled on the Olly wings (anything with the name in it has to be a signature dish, right?), the cheese ball, the charred broccoli Caesar, and finally, the renowned, Craig Laban–approved burger.
The cheese ball arrived first, accompanied with seeded crackers and some apricot on the side. The cheese's texture and consistency were like that of a ricotta, and with that in my mind, I eagerly took my bite. The cheese, which proved not to be ricotta, lacked the usual saltiness of a spread cheese, and, honestly, had little flavor at all. The sweetness of the apricots, however, when added to the cheese and cracker combination, aided the blandness of the cheese by providing it with a deeper layer of flavor. This cheese–apricot pairing quickly became my favorite dish from the evening, with the fusion of savory cream and sweet citrus.
Following this appetizer were the wings and salad, which arrived together. While the quality of the ingredients for both dishes was evident in the way the chicken tore and the lettuce crunched, they also lacked any added flavor. The waitress had described the wings as potentially “the best wings we would ever taste,” but they didn’t come anywhere close to that standing. Though the chicken itself was of high quality, they would not be worth a second purchase, given their high price point on the menu. As for the salad, though the broccoli was the highlight of this innovative Caesar salad, its bitterness also overwhelmed the entire dish. This makes it almost inedible for anyone who doesn't absolutely love broccoli.
By this point, my friend and I were stuffed and ready to unbutton our pants. Still, we were eager to try the burger that was on its way. When we originally ordered, the waitress had described how Laban, the Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic, had spent an hour raving about the burger to the manager of the restaurant, so we certainly had high expectations. However, when the burger arrived, its appearance was really nothing special, and the taste reflected that. While the beef was of good quality and well–cooked, the cornichon aioli tasted no different than a typical mayonnaise, and the bacon within the burger went unnoticed, so unnoticed that I’m starting to suspect there wasn’t any on it at all. Especially given Laban’s rave review, I have to say that the burger was rather unsatisfying.
While this joint definitely offered a modern take on American comfort food, the bill was far from comfortable. The quality and appearance of the food definitely did not measure up to the extravagant decor of the restaurant. The food, though good overall, often lacked flavor, and was not worth either its hefty price tag or the cross–town trek to South 5th Street. If you’re looking for a great date spot, skip this place and just stay on campus—your wallet will thank you.
TL;DR: Olly's American dishes are headed in the right direction, but still have room to improve.
Location: 700 S 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Hours: Monday – Thursday: 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday: 10 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.