Olivo Restaurant offers best of four worlds
• New restaurant on Seventh Street combines Middle Eastern, Mexican, Puerto Rican and American offerings
By Richard S. Gubbe
A cross-cultural restaurant has opened at 211 S. Seventh St., Rockford, and the combination of cuisines is sure to please just about everyone.
The Olivo Restaurant combines Middle Eastern, Mexican, Puerto Rican and American offerings under one roof. The family-owned casual dining spot employs a brightly colored interior with a luncheonette setting.
Two brothers, Mahmud and Said Zatar, two young and ambitious businessmen from Palestine by way of Chicago, have an easy explanation for the mix of cultures represented on their menu.
“I’m married to a half-Puerto Rican woman, and my brother is married to a Mexican woman, so we are involved with eating those kinds of food all the time,” Mahmud Zatar said. “They always cooked their food, and we always liked it. We learned how to cook Middle Eastern food from my mom.”
Mahmud is just 26, his brother 29, but their experience comes from working in a combination grocery and deli on Chicago’s north side. The family moved to the United States 16 years ago, and after working in their family restaurant on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago, the brothers came to Rockford five years ago. They opened the El Olivo Grocery at 301 S. Seventh two years ago. The next step was to open a restaurant.
“We didn’t see anything like it around here,” Mahmud Zatar said. “People are going to love the taste.”
Dishes contain a seven-spice Middle Eastern flavor as well as traditional Spanish seasonings, Zatar said. They use the spices they sell at their grocery.
Said Zatar is the main chef and employs three others. The restaurant is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily, with Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Middle Eastern cuisine includes shish kebab and kifta kebab sandwiches, beef and chicken Schwarma sandwiches, and a falafel sandwich. They also offer hummus and Baba Ganouj of roasted eggplant seasoned with Middle Eastern spices and Tahini sauce.
Puerto Rican food includes a Bistec Ensebollado steak, Arroz Con Gandules, Habichuelas bean stew, Pollo Frito (fried chicken) and Platano Madro (deep-fried plantains).
Mexican dishes include tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas and chicken or steak tortas.
Olivo also offers typical American burgers and wings, along with Greek and Jerusalem salads.
“We’re still adding more, and we add our seasoning to give it the taste,” Mahmud Zatar said.
The Zatars plan to offer daily specials and change countries every day. When another oven arrives in a few weeks, they will offer New York-style pizza 14 inches a slice.
Future plans include a fresh meat store just north of the restaurant on Seventh Street. They plan to offer deli meat and seasonings there.
The phone number for Olivo Restaurant is (815) 904-6179.
From the July 18-24, 2012, issue
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