Cafe Olli is everything you want it to be

Cafe Olli is a large number of restaurants.

By day, it’s a casual, counter-service spot with your choice of pastries, sandwiches and “pizza alla pala” Roman squares by the slice. There’s also soup, two kinds of fancy cheese on toast (whipped ricotta with bee pollen and citrus marmalade or stracciatella with Calabrian chili honey), and breakfast options. -made-to-order breakfast, all in a bright space with large windows overlooking both Northeast Martin Boulevard Luther King Jr. and Failing Street.

At night, the room darkens. There are servers on the floor, and cooks busy themselves with the wood-burning oven, which remains from the space’s former occupant, Ned Ludd (though it’s not the only cooking utensil). Pizzas are now whole and round, and the menu includes snacks like beef tartare and marinated olives, salads, roasted vegetables, a single crust, three mains, and desserts (get there early or eat fast to guarantee a slice of classic chocolate cake). ).

With its eclectic simplicity, Cafe Olli has decidedly “this is what a restaurant should be after a pandemic”. Its five founding partners all previously worked for Submarine Hospitality (Ava Gene’s, Tusk). They own 50% of the restaurant, while the remaining 50% is owned by an employee-owned trust. This means that half of the quarterly profits go to employees based on hours worked and seniority.

There’s also no tipping here since Cafe Olli charges a 20% service charge to pay all staff higher salaries and provide health care and paid vacations. The social practices extend to the menu, which includes a sliding-scale community meal ($0 to $14)—a savory farro porridge during the day and a meatball dish at dinner—available, as he describes, for “those experiencing food insecurity or financial hardships. No questions asked.

But Cafe Olli also has familiar pre-pandemic elements: It is, of course, “seasonally focused” and “locally sourced,” with produce from Pablo Munoz Farms and beef from Laney Family Farms. There’s also a commitment to making as many things as possible in-house, including pastas, breads and roast meats for sandwiches. The menu and space also evoke the brunch, crunchy vibe of all-day LA stalwarts Sqirl and Gjusta.

For breakfast, a frittata of the day ($8) changes with whatever seasonal vegetables are on hand – on a recent visit, it was potato, leek, spring onion and garlic. green garlic. It came with a shot of mayonnaise and a side of hearty greens.

If you prefer a sandwich instead, Cafe Olli lets you order your frittata nestled in a seeded ciabatta bun served with cheddar cheese, greens, mayonnaise, and a hot fermented jalapeño and serrano sauce ($10).

A large green schmear of hot sauce with cheddar and mayo is also on the sausage sandwich ($10), which can be ordered with or without a fried egg. Her crispy little “breakfast roll” seemed unlikely to hold her layers, but, in fact, the roll is both fluffy and squeezable, and all the pieces are held together without the need for the supplied knife.

If it’s Saturday or Sunday, the pastry’s star attraction is the bombolini ($6), a gigantic Italian doughnut coated in crispy sugar that walks the “is this dessert or is this breakfast?” line, especially when the filling is a salted chocolate pastry cream. Other recent options have been passion fruit curd and cheesecake mousse. There’s also an old-fashioned donut ($5), with vanilla buttermilk frosting, as well as good old-fashioned coffee cake in the form of a loaf ($3 a slice).

The dinner menu has a choose your own adventure feel, suitable for someone looking for a quick meal of pizza and salad at the counter with its full view of the oven, or a customer looking for a full trip through the menu. Recently, a plate of strong-tasting roasted Brussels sprouts ($10) stole the show. In fact, its char, sweetness and tartness also made the next plate bland, beef tartare with crisps, horseradish and Meyer lemon ($14).

If you have to choose your carbs, choose pizza over pasta. Current options include a four cheese (no tomato) with kale and agrodolce onions ($26) and an Italian sausage with pepperoncini and Calabrian chili ($25), which you can also brown with hot Calabrian honey ($3) . But it’s the minimalist pomodoro ($20) — nothing but tomato sauce, thinly sliced ​​garlic, oregano, and olive oil — that really showcases the naturally risen and kissed crust. by fire.

Except you’re also going to want to “spoil” the purity of this pizza by adding stracciatella ($3). And oh boy, will you feel spoiled. Hand-stretched from curds supplied by Cowbell Creamery, the milky fat of cream cheese is both decadent and simple. Which also sums up Cafe Olli.

TO EAT: Cafe Olli, 3925 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-206-8604, 9am-2pm Tuesday, 9am-9pm Wednesday-Sunday.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement