At Black Olive in Voorhees, as at most Greek restaurants, a dish of olives is brought to your table as soon as you sit down. At Black Olive, though, all the olives are purplish-black kalamatas from Greece, homeland of chef/owner George Iliopoulos.
Arriving in the States in 1977, Iliopoulos proceeded to earn degrees in marketing from Kean University, culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York, and hospitality management at NYU. After Iliopoulos opened Mediterranean and German restaurants in Red Bank and Horsham, Pennsylvania, he and his current business partner (and former college roommate), Stephen Tryfonas, opened Black Olive in 2013. “We felt the area needed a good Greek restaurant,” Iliopoulos says.
That’s pretty much what they have created. The roomy dining room, with hardwood floors, trellised ceiling and framed photos of Greece, has white-clothed tables covered with brown butcher paper. But beware the wooden chairs, imported from Greece. They’re small and straight backed, with unforgiving rattan seats so uncomfortable I suggest trying to reserve a place along the curving banquette that separates the dining room from the open kitchen.
With the exception of one over-roasted lemon chicken, each of the proteins I tried in two visits was perfectly cooked, from sautéed chicken breast Corfu with spinach and tomatoes in a lemon-white wine sauce to a gargantuan lamb shank braised in red wine until the plush meat slipped off the bone into a bed of umami-rich orzo. A whole red snapper, grilled over charcoal and filleted in the kitchen, was moist, glistening and delicious.
Portions are uniformly generous. Another night, I brought home much of my entrée of pork chops rubbed with garlic and celery salt and grilled. The next day, they were still moist and juicy, even after reheating.
The kitchen turns out quite respectable versions of the standards, from spanakopita and moussaka to gyros and baklava. The long list of small plates contains some lesser-known treasures, like chewy, smoky squares of grilled halloumi cheese in tomato-balsamic sauce and tender eggplant stuffed with creamy feta and baked in tomato sauce.
But there were letdowns, too. Saganaki, another classic pan fry, of kefalograviera cheese, needed fresh herbs and a squirt of lemon to lift it from sagging blandness. Hummus was weirdly wet and overpowered by dill. Bifteki—grilled ground-lamb patties—though well-seasoned, were served over pale, tasteless tomato slices, insipid out of season.
The same tomatoes were less noticeable in the shredded salad that comes with every entrée. The recipe, from Iliopoulos’s mother, includes romaine, cucumbers, red onion, feta and dill in a simple lemon vinaigrette. It was one of the rare free side salads actually worth eating every bit of. On one visit, I chose soup instead of salad and was rewarded with a cup of rich yet surprisingly light mixed-bean soup.
Reliables include crisp fries tossed with oregano and feta; tender roast leg of lamb; and shrimp Tourkolimano (flavored with just a bit too much ouzo). If you have room after such hearty fare, try the silky cheesecake topped with imported tangy sour cherry preserves or slivers of quince in a cinnamon glaze. You can go rich with ekmek (layers of kataifi and shredded phyllo in lemon syrup festooned with nuts, custard and whipped cream) or relatively light with Greek yogurt topped with honey and walnuts.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:European - Greek/Mediterranean
Price Details:Appetizers, $4-$14; entrées, $8-$24; desserts, $6.
Ambience:Bustling on weekends, sleepy on weeknights.