Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Olivia's Diner Food Review

Single 1/3 Burger with Fresh-cut Fries

Olivia's Diner isn't your typical diner. For one thing, it's located downtown (Golden Triangle) and bears little to no resemblance to its competition (i.e. Open City, etc.) I stopped by for a late (after 3) lunch, and pretty much had the whole place to myself. Off-hours are potentially hazardous; but outside of a few hiccups, I'm happy to report... this is one "greasy spoon" worth traveling to.

I received a warm welcome (from the back, nobody at the host station) and was escorted to a spacious booth, parallel with the beginning of Olivia's gorgeous marble bar. The booths are genuinely big, and can easily fit three people (my size) on each side. The atmosphere is very nice, and includes the kind of sound system you'd kill to have at home. I can't recall a clearer sound in quite some time; although you could argue it was wasted on Christina Aguilera and Hootie & the Blowfish. Perhaps Olivia's needs a new DJ? And someone observant enough to change the time on the bar-side's humongous wall clock: Daylight Savings Time began over 36 hours ago. I wouldn't normally mention it, but the clock is literally bigger than I am... Can you say "elephant in the room?" On the plus side, there's fast (and free) Wi-fi, and the dining room looked absolutely spotless.


Service was solid and polite, but began with a flat Diet Coke. When I let my server know, she quickly apologized and tried again (successfully.) I never got her name (I wish all servers introduced themselves) but she checked in on me a half-dozen times, which earns major kudos in my book. I placed an order for a Single 1/3 Burger ($10, with Fresh-cut Fries) and a side of Coleslaw (just $1.50.) I asked if the ($3.50 Basket of) Kettle Chips were housemade (they weren't) so I passed. At least she was honest; but if you can fry killer fries (more on those later) you should be able to make a few potato chips too.

I ordered my burger cooked MEDIUM, and it arrived (perfectly cooked) less than 10 minutes later. Olivia's burgers look bigger than their advertised (1/3 lb.) size, and come dressed with lettuce, thin strands of red onion and a chunky slice of tomato, atop a buttered, toasted brioche bun. No kosher pickle, but that's hardly a deal-breaker. It looked delectable, and tasted pretty good... save for an almost unforgivable lack of salt and pepper. Even worse, there was no salt shaker at my table (only a pepper grinder.) Why can't chefs season their meat? It should be automatic. Automatic! In this case, it turned a B+ burger into a C+, despite spot-on doneness. What a shame.

Thankfully, things started to look (way) up, once I went to work on the aforementioned fresh-cut fries. They were crispy, dirty and scrumptious. So good, I came this close to ordering another basket ($4.) Coleslaw was average... flavorful, but too many (thick) pieces of onion and runny mayo at the bottom of the bowl. At least it was fresh.

Prices are better than fair ($10 for a burger & fries, $2.75 for a soda) and the service was attentive. The kitchen needs to pay closer attention to details (cole slaw, seasoning) but for a first visit, much better than most diners. Until breakfast (soon, I hope) the jury's still out; but 19th Street, NW appears to be back on the road to culinary success.

Atmosphere: B+ (It's really nice inside.)
Burger: C+ (A bit of salt & pepper, and we're talking B+.)
Fries: B+ (Crispy & delicious.)
Coleslaw: C (Fresh & tasty, but they need to go easy on the onions.)
Service: B (Granted, I was their only customer... but some places "go to sleep" in similar situations.)
Value: B (Just over 20 bucks with a tip.)
Overall: B- (Almost a B. Too many little mistakes, but the potential's there for something special.)