When renowned actor Woody Harrelson stepped in last January to help buy the financially troubled Inn at the Black Olive, he became an unlikely, but welcome, local hero, not least for saving a popular local family’s labor of love. Stelios and Pauline Spiliadis (owners of the longstanding The Black Olive restaurant, also in Fells Point), and their son, Dimitris, had spent about a decade building the state-of-the-art, green boutique hotel, only to see it fall into bankruptcy two short years after opening. With it went the inn’s promising rooftop restaurant, The Olive Room, whose organic ethos, spare industrial aesthetic, and glorious rooftop views charmed this reviewer in 2011.
Now, thanks to new investors Harrelson and local financier Jack Dwyer, the place (along with the inn’s ground-floor Agora market cafe) has a well-deserved second chance. From all indications, it looks like Woody’s gamble will turn out to be a very good bet.
The new owners have handed managerial duties over to Dimitris, whose passionate commitment to organic food cemented a friendship with Harrelson when he stayed at the inn during a long film shoot for HBO’s Game Change. That commitment is in full force on the compact, rustic Greek menu, where you’ll find a kind of mini version of The Black Olive’s offerings, with a similar emphasis on pristine seafood, locally butchered meats, and lots of organic vegetarian and vegan selections.
The vibe here is distinctly contemporary, its industrial limestone floors and steel trim enlivened by splashes of color from contemporary art and well-placed Persian rugs. The sleek design smartly allows the spectacular harbor and city views—some of the best in Baltimore—to take pride of place. Tables are placed in the long, narrow room along a bank of sheer-curtained windows. On balmy nights, back when the restaurant first opened, we’d sit on the terrace and watch the fireworks over Camden Yards, but every seat inside boasts a decent vantage point from which to sip good wine from a list loaded with great organic (many Greek) choices and enjoy sunsets and city lights.
There are some equally fine appetizers to accompany the wine. It’s no surprise that the seafood offerings here are superb, starting with two small plates that alone are reason enough to return. The grilled octopus salad features perfectly tender, lightly charred octopus tossed with excellent olive oil, capers, and red onions. Shrimp ceviche is a close second. The shrimp is lightly “cooked” in a lime-lemon marinade, roughly cut into toothsome chunks, and mounded in a deep glass, to be scooped compulsively with a spoon. Aside from seafood, I’d recommend the saganaki sampler, a large platter of pan-fried Greek cheeses surrounding bright bursts of red and yellow cherry tomatoes and served with house-made pita chips. There’s also a selection of traditional Mediterranean salads and spreads, delicate zucchini and feta fritters called kolokithokeftedes (best to just point to it on the menu), and zucchini-eggplant crisps we’d love to try.
Thanks to new investors Woody Harrelson and local financier Jack Dwyer, the place has a well-deserved second chance.
Entrees are divided into three categories: eight meat offerings “From the Mountains,” eight “From the Sea,” and three vegetarian mains “From the Valley.” The meat and seafood offerings include two grilled “feasts” for family-style dining. Along with a few requisite Greek classics such as house-made spinach-and-feta pie and lamb stew, grilled entrees dominate.
Again, the seafood proved exemplary. It was hard to choose between the souvlaki (a charcoal feast of scallops, shrimp, and Scottish salmon) and grilled scallops, but when the four fat scallops arrived, perched atop spinach purée and bathed in citrus garlic sauce, there was nothing to regret. The whole grilled bronzini was near perfect, its freshness and firm flesh nicely touched by the smoke of wood fire. On the “mountain” side, the kitchen does a lovely take on lamb moussaka. The Olive Room’s version is a round concoction with layered potatoes, eggplant, shredded lamb, and a velvety béchamel. It is delicious. Having remembered dining on some elegant lamb chops back when the inn had first opened, I ordered them again and rediscovered why they’d been so memorable. Sweetly fragrant with their marinade of Greek herbs and olive oil, they were juicy and just-right pink.
I’d also remembered on my first go-round that the one sticking point here was service, which had been slow-to-nonexistent. This time, I’m happy to report that all was well-timed, from the swift delivery of a warm basket of olive bread upon seating, to the arrival of a complimentary amuse-bouche of smoked salmon, to a gracious table-clearing after the last spoonful of house-made baklava with ice cream. Thank you, Mr. Harrelson. You can save our local restaurants anytime.
THE OLIVE ROOM 803 S. Caroline St., 443-681-6316.
HOURS Tues.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.; Sun. brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
CUISINE Greek fare with an emphasis on fresh seafood and grilled meats.
PRICE Appetizers: $5-45; entrees: $18-45; desserts: $7-10.
ATMOSPHERE Spare, industrial rooftop setting with sweeping views of the harbor.