At Oliver’s, the veteran fine dining restaurant on Delaware Avenue, chefs have come and gone in the last 20 years. The owners have even changed.
What has stood the test of time? The spinach loaf.
It’s a baguette that’s been split and filled with spinach and cheese, topped with more cheese, and delivered to the table sporting a golden brown crust. It costs $5.
“That’s probably the only thing on the menu that hasn’t changed since I’ve gotten here. That and the ‘garbage salad,’” said Executive Chef Lennon Lewandowski, who has been at Oliver’s since 2008. One of his first tasks as a low-level kitchen worker was whipping garlic butter for the spinach loaves.
Customers love it, cementing its place on the menu. Chefs don’t necessarily feel the same way.
“It’s like the opposite of the rest of the food that we do,” said Lewandowski. “It’s a big loaf of bread that fills people up.” Former Oliver’s chefs, gone on to their own restaurants, commiserate with Lewandowski over the tyranny of the spinach loaf.
“Between chefs that have been here it’s a bit of a joke,” he said. “But at the same time it’s a very approachable thing, it’s warming, it’s comforting, and it is awesome. It’s one of the things that we do, and it’s not going away anytime soon.”
At Oliver’s, pastry chefs bake rosemary bread for the steak sandwich, brioche buns for our burgers, and the restaurant’s house buns, every day. But there are limitations. The spinach loaf baguettes are bought frozen. “We bake all the other bread here, which is a vast amount,” Lewandowski said. “You’d spend 20 hours a day baking if you had to do it for the spinach loaves, too.”
The baguette is split open. Then it’s slathered on both sides with butter that’s been whipped with fresh garlic.
“Then you put the spinach and herbs in it, spinach with a little bit of parsley and basil,” Lewandowski said. “Then a little of that butter is slathered on the top, and a little grated Romano cheese is dusted on the inside, and the top. So when it bakes up, the top gets golden brown from the toasting of that butter, and it gets a little soft and creamy on the inside.”
It’s chopped into pieces, “into the basket, fold the napkin over it and out it goes,” he added.
That’s the one change to the spinach loaf Lewandowski can think of during his tenure. “They used to serve it with a serrated knife, and we had feedback that it was too much trouble at the table. We just started chopping every one of them. Which doesn’t seem like much, until you sell 35 on a Saturday while you’re trying to cook a bunch of high-end cuisine.”
“It’s a loss leader, but it works – people love it.”