My friend Rick and I, having briefly run out of ideas, in the short term, for lunch in my area, were on our way to Subway when we passed by the Olmos. Neither of us had been there since it was actually a drugstore with a soda fountain, years ago, and we decided it was a more interesting choice than the good-but-familiar sandwich shop down the road. Even if we didn't get one of their justly-famous milkshakes.
Did it turn out a good choice? Depends.
The ambience of the place is not quite as funky as when it was an actual drugstore, but it's more coherent. Gone are the high-backed booths with the collapsing seats. Instead there are four-tops sufficient for about 60 people, plus the barstools at the soda fountain (which, I'm glad to see, survived the make-over). There's an area at the street end for bands to perform in (they advertise live music nightly; it used to be known for its jazz sets, but I don't know what kind of music they feature these days), and a full bar at the back to give the place its other sobriquet, "Olmos Bharmacy." In the bright light of the lunch hour, it's a quaint neighbourhood hang-out.
It wasn't particularly busy when we arrived, though it was straight-up 12:00, but it was busy enough for the one waiter to have plenty to do. We got our menus, not quickly but soon enough, and made our selections: turkey and swiss on rye for Rick, the soup-and-sandwich combo for me. Both of us noticed that all the plates coming out of the kitchen were loaded --- I mean loaded --- with food. Most of what people order there, apparently, is fried, but the salads require a steady hand to make the trip from kitchen to table intact. That certainly whet the appetite.
Rick's sandwich looked as gorgeous as anything else that came out of the kitchen. The marbled rye was excellent in appearance and (if he's to be believed) flavour, and the greenery between the slices was as impressive as in any high-end advertising photograph. His plate came with french fries, but not your ordinary french fries: these are beer-battered steak fries, admirably seasoned and properly cooked. Other small restaurateurs might want to suss out the supplier.
|Last city inspection: February 2014|
My plate consisted of a bowl of the soup of the day and half a sandwich, also turkey and swiss, but I chose wheat bread. The wheat bread is, I would say, taken from the absolute cheapest loaf of the stuff that you can buy at HEB; the turkey was three slices, stuck together, from a mid-range deli-pack, and the Swiss cheese was the thinnest sliver of the stuff you can get. In better light you could probably read the Express-News through it. This unappealing collaboration was not improved by the fact that the lettuce on my half-sandwich consisted of a single miniscule chip nestled under a soggy slice of tomato like a doodlebug under a damp rock. Quite the contrast with Rick's artistic masterpiece.
My lunch was saved from total disaster by the soup. It was a delicious peppery broth of chicken and rice, filled with plenty of vegetables and a good amount of rice, along with an impressive quantity of chicken in large, nicely-textured chunks. The kind of soup your grandmother would make for you even if you weren't sick, and had done something worthy of a serious reward. It was even good enough to salvage an overall passing grade for the restaurant in the chili-pepper ratings.