Olly, the latest venture from partners Chris D’Ambro and Marina Olivera, complements the other restaurants in their collection — Southwark, a modern farm-to table tavern, and Ambra, an Italian, multi-course chef tasting dining destination that rivals any Michelin star restaurant I’ve visited.
But back to Olly: Chris D’Ambro explained: “When the space opened up on the corner of Fifth and Bainbridge, just a block from our other restaurants, it presented a great opportunity for us. We have a really strong team of food professionals; our pastry chef and sous chef have been with us for nearly four years and they were ready to take on a larger role — or maybe move on. We didn’t want to lose them, and we are eager to grow, so this worked.”
The new space offered D’Ambro and Olivera the chance to explore a different type of cuisine.
D’Ambro continued, “We wanted to move into another concept — more casual, neighborhood local, family-friendly vibe but still really good quality. If you want wings, you shouldn’t have to go to a dive or a bad chain. If you want to go out with your family, you should be able to have good quality food that meets everyone’s preferences.”
Olly delivers that and then some. A word on the name: Ambra is a play on D’Ambro’s name, so they wanted to honor Olivera in a similar way, hence Olly.
The menu is divided into small, medium and large plates, with a regular nightly special meal and a lot of vegetarian options that are hearty, unique and really delicious. Like in most mainstream restaurants, kosher-style diners have a number of items to avoid, but plenty of good options in the vegetable/fish/poultry/beef space.
The bar offers a selection of craft cocktails, interesting local and international draft and bottled beers, and a reasonably priced wine list. Boozeless cocktails and fresh-squeezed juices are also offered for nonpartakers.
On two recent visits, I sampled a good cross section of the menu, and the dishes were all uniformly well prepared; most are ideal for sharing. The fried artichokes, served with crisp housemade potato chips and saffron aioli, were deliciously addictive. The cheeseball, a modern take on the ’70s cocktail party staple, was a high-quality spread presented alongside housemade seeded crackers.
Toasts seem to be a bit of an appy fad these days with many restaurants offering these easy to share bites with a variety of toppings. Olly’s version, a hearty slab of housemade sourdough with burrata and arugula, did not disappoint.
The zucchini panzanella salad offered a fresh take on the standard tomato panzanella with local baby greens tossed with green goddess dressing, pickled radish and mozzarella.
During one of my visits, my guest was a notoriously picky eater who grew up in South Philly, so her standards for Italian dishes hearken back to her nonna. The ricotta gnudi, gnocchi-like dumplings lightened up with more ricotta and less flour, were served with fava beans, spring onions, lemon and Parmesan. They were spectacular and my amica agreed.
We sampled the blueberry cobbler, an excellent version of the homestyle treat, topped with almond ice cream. In a previous visit, we enjoyed apple-raspberry cobbler; the pastry chef obviously uses the most seasonal fruit available and tweaks the filling accordingly. The chocolate tart with vanilla whipped cream and caramel passed my test, and I am notoriously critical of chocolate desserts.
Prices are moderate, with small plates ranging from $4-12, medium plates from $11-14 and large from $14-34 (for prime rib).
If you go:
700 S. Fifth St. (corner of Fifth and Bainbridge)
Happy Hour: Monday-Saturday 4-6 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.
Brunch: Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.