[Sidebar] August 7 - 14, 1997
[Food Reviews]
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Olga's Cup & Saucer

The quintessential oasis in an urban setting

by Johnette Rodriguez

103 Point Avenue, Providence, 831-6666
Open Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Major credit cards
Handicapped accessible

Olga's Cup & Saucer is the quintessential oasis in an urban setting. Near the busy Davol Square intersection, its inviting herb garden and restful patio beckon to those country folks at heart whose work lives confine them to coffee breaks on concrete.

Here the cement is formed into small round tables that are inlaid with beach stones and whimsically shaped like the giant mushrooms in Alice's Wonderland. Just right for sipping a ginger lemonade or cafe latte while sniffing the pungent basil growing nearby and munching one of Olga's incredible pastries.

Olga Bravo and partner Becky Wagner first set up shop 10 years ago in a tiny shed under a spreading oak tree next to Walker's Farm Stand in Little Compton. They turned out such good bread and brownies that people came from miles around, and Bravo and Wagner eventually expanded to gourmet desserts and sandwiches. Now they've expanded northward, and some familiar favorites have traveled with them.

There's the crunchy and oh-so-sour sourdough baguette ($2.75); the caraway/ currant scones ($1.50); morning-glory muffins ($1.25); giant peanut butter cookies ($1.25); and fruit pies made with imported butter in their crusts (small is $4.75; large $16-$18). Other regulars on the menu are clafouti, a custardy cousin of bread pudding with fruits of the season tucked inside ($1.50 a square); rugelach, small pinwheels rolled with poppy seeds or chocolate and nuts; chocolate or almond biscotti; and marvelously tart lemon squares ($1.25 each).

And then there are the sandwiches -- creative inventions wrapped in flour tortillas, baked in phyllo dough, or tucked inside Olga's sesame-sprinkled sourdough torpedoes. On a recent hot, sticky evening, I took a sampling of three of these to a picnic at Narragansett Beach. As my two companions and I gazed at the surfers riding the breakers, we oohed and aahed over our supper.

We started with the black-bean burrito ($4.75), laced with fresh ginger and cilantro and rolled tight inside a tortilla with a thin coating of sour cream. Mmmms echoed round the table. Then we nibbled the phyllo triangle, stuffed with ricotta, green beans, and dill ($4.75), and commented on the subtlety of the herbs. We saved the delicate papaya/frisee with cucumbers and fresh mozzarella ($5.75), a delightfully cooling summer sandwich, for last. Then we finished off this feast with blueberry/peach clafouti and blueberry/ peach pie.

Beach Picnic, Take Two: smoked mackerel and trout salad ($5.75) with a lemony herbed mayo holding together the fish chunks and grapes, cucumbers, scallions, roasted native corn and roasted red and yellow peppers. Not too busy with ingredients vying for attention, it was a refreshing change from tuna sandwiches!

Two more winners that evening were a tomato tartlette ($4.75), with sweet roasted onions and tomatoes, and a cornmeal-crusted zucchini sandwich ($5.75), with a wild-mushroom-and-herb goat cheese spread on the sourdough and arugula leaves and roasted corn kernels and bits of dried tomatoes on the squash-and-cornmeal cutlets.

For dessert, we had a hefty slice of polenta cake ($1.75) made from Gray's stone-ground cornmeal and finely ground almonds. Its coarse crumb was reminiscent of a German Sandkuchen, like a poundcake with moxie. We also shared a delectable piece of flourless fudge torte ($2.50), a bittersweet confection that is a cross between a brownie and mousse.

Both Wagner and Bravo are also artists outside the kitchen. Wagner designs the display trays, tables (the indoor ones have mosaic leaf designs), and wrought-iron wall sculptures; Bravo's drawings and paintings illustrate a 1995 children's book about Olga's Cup & Saucer and decorate the walls of the shop.

So, forget those golden arches -- nothing could beat takeout from Olga's and a giant rainbow arcing over Narragansett's gentle waves.

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