Words by Seth Birkenmeyer
Olio is a hallmark of dining in the Fan that I have been meaning to try since I found myself living in Richmond three years ago. Many good things have been said about the sandwich shop, and its popular cart offering on campus has added to the intrigue.
As such, I am disappointed to say that my meal there was nothing special.
With that said, however, the respectable selection of dishes and my friends’ contentment with their meals leads me to conclude I simply did not like my particular choices.
The restaurant itself is lovely. It is only a 10 to 15-minute walk from the VCU Monroe Park Campus and it is easy to find on Main Street.
Inside the soft music, low lighting and open floor plan make for a welcoming, casual atmosphere.
A myriad of drink options line the walls, with no shortage of adult beverages for those trying to have a little more fun with their meal. (Calm down, Mom, I stuck to a Coke and some water.)
Some of the available sides fill the display case by the register. The garlic kale in particular stood out and looked good.
After a couple of minutes of carefully perusing the menu, I tell the fine gentleman behind the counter that I would like the smoked salmon bruschetta, because it sounds legitimately beautiful with its goat cheese, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini and red onions. Devastatingly, they are fresh out of fresh salmon. Sure, I die a little inside, but that’s a reasonable item to be out of stock.
I awkwardly return to the menu and let my friends order before deciding on the Londoner: house roasted beef, red peppers, spicy Dijon, balsamic dressing and caramelized onions on ciabatta.
The sandwich was competent. The beef was beefy and the Dijon was spicy. The balsamic dressing did not really mesh well with the other ingredients and made for an odd taste. The red peppers were not very good, so I ended up being gross and picking those out. It was a nicely sized portion and a good value for the price in that sense.
The garlic kale I was so weirdly excited about turned out to be a total bummer. It tasted like I was eating nothing at all. My other side, the potato salad was, well, potato salad. At least it tasted like something.
As a critic, I cannot usually just give the benefit of the doubt to whatever it is I am critiquing. Plus, it is usually way more fun to harshly denounce something as opposed to being gentle. But Olio is an exception.
The prices are reasonable and its location is certainly convenient. The service was fast and friendly, and I like their setup of ordering upfront at the register before sitting down and waiting to be served.
The experience overall was pleasant, especially when shared with good friends. The numerous sandwich options I did not try (especially that smoked salmon…) still seem to have a lot of potential. Perhaps those are the ones people were freaking out about so much. Just go at your own risk.