When is an old-time diner not an old-time diner? When it’s the reincarnation of Olga’s, the landmark in Marlton. This week, I also find a bustling white-tablecloth Italian BYOB near Ambler, “no-guilt” Korean fried chicken in Center City, and a long-time happy hour with solid wine offerings.
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Olga’s Diner returns to South Jersey after a decade
It has new owners and a new building in a new location in Marlton. The name in neon script still says “Olga’s Diner.”
In its new guise, Olga’s on Route 73 at Baker Boulevard is assuredly not Olga’s, whose star had been fading for years before it closed in 2008. (The old building, a half-mile away on the old Marlton Circle, was razed in 2017 and is now the site of a fertility clinic. Refreshing to know that people are still ordering eggs there.)
Although coffeepot-toting waitresses bustle through the shiny 260-seater’s dining room and you can get pancakes and other breakfast food all day, Olga’s feels more like a restaurant than a true diner. My BYO bottle of wine didn’t raise an eyebrow, as wine glasses quickly materialized.
Owners Chris Kolovos and Bill Dovas, who own the Colonial Diner and Lucien’s Manor, have brought back Mike Mihos, the last chef. Mihos is working with consulting chef Brad Spence, who spent years in the Vetri camp with the Amis restaurants. Olga’s menu has sandwiches, burgers, and other diner fare, but it is less than half the size of the original. It’s also not priced at cheap diner levels. This is fair value.
What we tried on a busy Saturday night was impressive: Mihos’ two fontina-stuffed meatballs, served in red sauce that any South Philly red-gravy spot would be proud of, with a side of broccoli rabe ($9.99). The ultimate Jersey diner share plate: cheese-and-brown-gravy-topped disco fries ($8.99). Chicken croquettes ($15.99) — packed with chicken, lightly breaded, fried, and topped with gravy and enough for lunch the next day — were plopped on creamy mashed potatoes next to steamed vegetables that maintained their snap. A 14-ounce pork chop with burgundy glaze and served on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes next to green beans was a good deal at $19.99.
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
This Week’s Openings
The Blue Elephant | Pottstown
Asian fusion in a dramatic setting (including a bar) in a former bank at 152 E. High St., from the Teikoku crew.
Di Bruno’s | Italian Market
A bottle shop, with a hundred beers and wines and some by-the-glass selections, has opened at 920 S. Ninth St., just up the block from Di Bruno’s long-running cheese shop. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday now; it goes to seven days starting Nov. 25.
El Nopalito | Haddonfield
Cheery, curio-filled Mexican BYOB (“the little cactus”) is open from breakfast through dinner daily at 47 Kings Highway East.
Mare Monte | Haddonfield
Another white-tablecloth Italian BYOB for Haddonfield, at the former Villa Rosa at 1 Kings Highway East.
Outback Steakhouse | Fairless Hills
Gday. The Bloomin’ Onion has arrived in Oxford Valley at 650 Commerce Blvd., replacing an Old Country Buffet.
Paddywax Candle Bar | Rittenhouse
Sammy’s Bullfrog Cafe | Harleysville
Cute Upper Montco bruncherie is open from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. in a former pizzeria off Main Street at 282 Hunsberger Lane.
Shana’s Wild Fig | Blackwood
Upmarket American BYOB is at 57 S. Black Horse Pike open Wednesday-Saturday for dinner (5-10 p.m.) and from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. for Sunday brunch.
This Week’s Closings
Little Baby’s Ice Cream | Fishtown and Center City
Premium ice cream shops have announced they will remain open till Nov. 27 or while supplies last.
Where we’re enjoying happy hour
Tria Cafe, 1137 Spruce St. and 123 S. 18th St. (plus Tria Taproom at 2005 Walnut St.), 5-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday
The wine, beer, and cheese parties never stop at this long-running, high-volume trio in Center City, and the $5 specials truly are special — a red, a white, a vermouth, a 16-ounce draft, and two snacks.
This week, for example, the cafes offer Tired Hands Death Tripper on tap; the sweet Spanish vermouth Iris Rojo; and Zweigelt Zum Martin Sepp, an Austrian red usually priced at $9, and Rioja Blanco Bodegas Tarón, a Spanish white. The food side: a charcuterie plate of Cacio de Roma, an Italian sheep milk cheese, and Finocchiona salami, a pork salami out of good ol’ Union City, N.J., served with honey and crusty bread; or a toast topped with white bean spread including sheep feta, roasted tomato, kalamata olive, and lemon oil.
Tria Taproom, where the $5 menu is more ambitious because of the kitchen setup, offers wings, guajillo chicken tacos, fried cheese curds, baba ghanouj, and a cheese plate along with the drinks.
Where we’re eating
Ristorante Imperatore, 36 W. Skippack Pike, Ambler
Sit down at chef-owner Adel Khemiri’s cozy, low-lit but energetic white-tablecloth Italian BYOB in a strip mall at the Montco crossroads known as Broad Axe. Peruse the menu and its assortment of staples of veal, seafood, chicken, and pastas. But wait! There’s more! The waiter then arrives to launch a nearly 2-minute recitation of specials. (Why don’t restaurants simply print them up and include it with the menu?)
Keep an eye on the tab. Not that Imperatore is overpriced or anything. Specials tend to be higher than the rest of the menu (and you have to ask, dragging the ordering even longer), and though the restaurant is less than a year old, the prices found on its website can be outdated.
The artichoke special brought three of them, perfectly roasted and served with stems intact and a garlic aioli ($15). I’d go back just for the crunchy, seasonal salad of greens, roasted beets, roasted pistachio, crumbled goat cheese, shallots and light raspberry dressing ($9). Pollo Capresi (listed as $19.95 on the website but $20.50 on the tab) was a light option, the grilled chicken baked with tomato and mozzarella. Tasty Dover sole (a $39 special) was accompanied by steamed squash. I was rewarded by following the waitress’ suggestion of white wine sauce, opposed to marinara, for the risotto pescatori (shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, and crab meat over an almost-creamy risotto, and at $25.95, $2 more than the online price).
Staff was unfailingly polite, even when asking our table-for-4 — which was seated at 6 p.m. and waited on at 6:25 — to speed things along to accommodate an 8 o’clock res. So we skipped dessert.
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays (lunch), 4:30-11 p.m. daily (dinner).
Crunchik’n, 212 S. 11th St.
Everybody loves a little KFC. That is, Korean fried chicken, that crunchy, twice-fried snack that is simply poultry in motion.
Crunchik’n, the fast-casual that opened across from Jefferson last year, wows with its birds. But Jen Choi, who owns the place with her father, John, wanted to create what she calls a “guilt-free” version that never hits a fryer.
After months of work, the Chois just launched it in regular and boneless form. They start with skinless chicken that is marinaded and breaded in five different flours (not gluten-free). It’s then twice-baked. A secret spice mix is added during the second bake.
You get lots of crunch, though it is not as crunchy as the real thing, of course. It’s also on the mild side, as you dip it in four new sauces (including yogurt with honey) to kick things up. Prices for the baked are $1 more than fried.
Crunchik’n’s bird deal will take off further next month with the addition of snow chicken — Korean fried chicken dusted with powdered cheese.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-9 p.m. Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
Craig LaBan’s Q&A does not appear this week.